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Why Warren Buffett’s ‘Bible of investing’ still matters more than 70 years later

April 5, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

Anyone who’s read up on the prodigious life and career of Warren Buffett is likely familiar with the monumental impact that economist Benjamin Graham and his seminal tome, The Intelligent Investor, had on a young Buffett.

The Berkshire Hathaway legend was hardly 20 years old and finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska when he first came across Graham’s book. So gripped was Buffett by The Intelligent Investor’s empirical, value-driven approach to the stock market that he chose to pursue his business degree at Columbia Business School, where its author taught. Buffett would go on to briefly work for Graham, and named his first son Howard Graham in honor of his mentor.

“It changed my life,” Buffett told Fortune recently. “If I hadn’t read the book, I’d probably still be delivering papers.”

GRA.05.21.Intelligent Investor
Courtesy of Harper Business

But even Buffett is surprised by The Intelligent Investor’s staying power more than 70 years after it was first published, in 1949. At a time when stimulus checks and easy-to-use trading apps have drawn more Americans than ever to the stock market, Graham’s book remains a hugely popular resource. It ranked No. 89 among Amazon’s 100 best-selling books of 2020, and frequently ranks as the bookseller’s most popular title in the economics and finance categories.

“If you look up any investing book that was written six months or a year ago, it’s usually [ranked] No. 24,000 at best,” Buffett notes. “There’s nothing like it. Ben Graham wrote a book that nobody has been able to come even remotely close to in durability.”

Of course, much of The Intelligent Investor’s enduring appeal can be attributed to its association with Graham’s most famous disciple. The book is widely credited with inventing the “value investing” philosophy that would underpin Buffett’s enormous success as an investor, and Buffett has never been shy about giving credit where it’s due.

“Anytime Warren Buffett mentions it, we usually get a nice little [sales] bump from that,” according to Harper Business publisher Hollis Heimbouch, who cites a regular uptick around Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting. While the HarperCollins imprint does not publicly disclose sales figures, Heimbouch says The Intelligent Investor has sold millions of copies in 36 languages around the world. “I don’t know another book on investing that has had this longevity,” she adds. “It kind of is the Bible of investing.”

For Buffett, the book’s lessons are especially pertinent at a time when novice investors can be prone to viewing the stock market “as a gambling ship,” rather than “think[ing] about investing as participation in a business.”

“It’s essential, in my view, if you’re an investor,” he says. “If you want to gamble on stocks, it doesn’t have any value for you; that isn’t investing, it’s day trading. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do know that Ben Graham’s investing works.”

A version of this article appears in the April/May issue of Fortune with the headline, “The Bible of business.”