Seveneves

There’s some great science fiction around at the moment. I’m not sure what’s going on but something about the present is inspiring great writing about the future. One of the best books I’ve read this year is Seveneves by Neal Stephenson — minor plot spoilers ahead so beware.

The novel starts with the Moon blowing up. It does so in a fairly matter of fact way — one minute it’s there and the next something (we never find out what) has caused it to disintegrate into many smaller parts. It takes a short while for scientists to realise that this is very bad for Earth dwellers and will eventually lead to so many pieces of rock entering the Earth’s atmosphere that the surface of the planet will become a firey mess and uninhabitable for thousands of years. The novel is the story of how human beings try to survive.

Weighing in at 880 pages, it’s hardly a short story and Stephenson manages to use that to give the most plausible version of life in space that I’ve read. There’s no warp speed or magic device for creating gravity. Food is scarce and death is random and frequent. The ‘Seven Eves’ of the title are the only survivors (down from seven billion) capable of reproduction five years after the surface of the Earth has become uninhabitable. Ingenuity is all that the human race has on its side. Robotics become one of the most invaluable technologies and in the end, other than physics, the thing that threatens humans more than anything is our inability to agree on anything.

It’s not perfect and some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional (the young Hillary Clinton like US President I found difficult to believe), but it’s an amazing piece of writing that draws you into a version of the future I think we do need to understand.

The Education of a Value Investor

Over the weekend, I read Guy Spier’s The Education of a Value Investor

based on Diane Coyle’s recommendation. Like Diane, I sped through the book in a couple of sittings and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a wonderful, authentic, honest story about how Guy unlearned some of the unfortunate things an elite formal education can instill in you and then learned some new, more positive approaches to living life and doing business. These were mainly inspired by Warren Buffett but the book is full of all kinds of useful references to books and people that helped Guy think things through along the way.

I’m spending a lot of time at the moment thinking about the kind of investor I want to be and I learned a huge amount from the book. There are a couple of things that are different for me though — firstly, I’ve taken to investing because I want to help new things into the world — usually startups. Hence you could never really call what we do at BGV ‘value investing’ which is entirely focussed on businesses that have been around for a while and have safe, predictable cashflows. And secondly I want to help those ventures to have a positive social impact — Guy has mainly surrounded himself by people who see a disctinction between their day jobs backing businesses that act ethically but are also profitable (fundamentally they aren’t out to change the world for the better) and charities that ‘do good’. I see much less of a distinction and want to try to support ventures that do both.

It’s a great book for anybody who is interested in having a happier, more fulfilling work life and bravo to Guy for the honesty and openness he shows throughout.