Recommended Reading: Empire of the Fund


EmpireofthefundimageIt's that time of year again! Time to revisit and perhaps rebalance the investments in your retirement portfolio. While it is a sad fact that many people lack significant retirement savings, it is nonetheless useful for those interested in consumer finance (and investment companies, pensions, etc.) to think about how retirement savings plans work and to be able to offer some advice, for example, to debtors emerging from bankruptcy with their clean slate. William Birdthistle, of Chicago-Kent law school, has recently released Empire of the Fund, a magnificent new work on the most common vehicle that carries individuals' retirement savings in the US: mutual funds.

I have heard that Birdthistle, who teaches across town from me, is legendary in the classroom. Having read his new book, I'm not at all surprised. While his fairly esoteric subject matter made me hesitate to nominate his book in response to Katie's post, Birdthistle has really pulled one off here by managing to make a book about the structure and pitfalls of mutual funds and retirement savings ... extremely entertaining! It is masterfully written, with both erudite references to relevant comments by literary and historical figures, along with laugh-out-loud allusions to modern culture ("OMG! Friends, right! Mutual funds are lame!"). This book is an absolutely brilliant example of how to make a work on an otherwise dry financial subject not only accessible to the general public, but a real pleasure to read. It is no wonder the New York Times calls this "a lively new book."

But this is not a watered-down piece of pop culture rubbish by any means. Birdthistle manages the serious subject matter equally adroitly. He offers both lucid and insightful explanations of the structure and operation of the complex business families comprising mutual funds, as well as gripping narratives relating the stories behind the most salient caselaw on mutual fund controversies. For example, while I'm not sure I have it down quite yet, I had never begun to understand Exchange Traded Funds until I read Birdthistle's account of their structure and utility. Specialists will find this book exceptionally perspicacious [overwrought verbiage intended--you'll see what I mean] ... and again, a truly hilarious read.

I've put my school's money where my mouth is and had the library acquire it for our collection. I give this book a recommendation of "Strong Buy" (especially if you need something to read on the long flight to AALS next week)!