An Email From 2008

"Opportunities abound in bad times as well as good times"

Happy Friday — and welcome all new subscribers!

On My Mind

Late last week, I got LASIK. If you are not familiar with the procedure, you can learn more about it from the FDA here. In summary, it is a surgery to correct vision.

I’ve had terrible eyesight since I was young — and it progressively decayed into my mid-twenties before settling out.

An average person has “20/20” vision, which means they can see what the average person can see at a distance of 20 feet. My vision was a bit worse than “20/600” — meaning, what the average person can see at 600 feet, I could see at 20 feet.

Fortunately, glasses worked well enough. However, if I ever lost those glasses, I was, for all intents and purposes, blind.

The procedure went well, and it was amazing — by the end of the day, I could see better than I could with glasses. I was seeing 20/15. It felt like magic.

However, the next morning, I found out that I am dealing with a somewhat uncommon, inflammation-related complication. Doctors are optimistic and apparently this complication is easily treated — but it does mean that I have to rest my eyes quite a bit.

Because of that required rest, I did not read much of anything this week — and maybe won’t next week, too!

Wait — “How are you writing this, then?” you might ask. Voice-to-text is pretty amazing. I can then spent only a little time editing on a keyboard!

However, I was sure everyone here reads more than just History Investor — meaning you might have things to share with other readers.

Thus, I reached out to the top 100 most active History Investor readers and asked for some help — this week’s edition features an aggregation of sources that those readers recommended.

Thank you to everyone that responded with something to share!

Going forward, I would love to keep sharing ideas from you all — if you ever have anything you would like to share with other History Investor readers, shoot me a note and we can include it in a Friday email.



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Quote of the Week

Fall in love with some activity, and do it!

Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter.

Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best.

Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do.

— Richard Feynman

Poll of the Week

Do you wear glasses / contacts?

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Last Week

Question: On average, do you listen to music from 10+ years ago or from today?

Results: 59% listen to music greater than 10 years old. I would be in the same camp! Bluegrass, Jazz, Folk — though with a dash of techno dance music when working out 😃 .

Responses: ”I listen to an eclectic mix music from the late 50’s through today’s current hits. I often confound Spotify’s algorithms.”

Things to Read (and Listen to)

World War II | From Supernova in the East by Dan Carlin, 2018

The Asia-Pacific War of 1937-1945 has deep roots. It also involves a Japanese society that’s been called one of the most distinctive on Earth. If there were a Japanese version of Captain America, this would be his origin story.

Given I couldn’t read much, I decided to listen. I’ve been a big fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History for a long time. Despite meaning to get to it eventually, I had never listened to one of his most popular series — a review of WWII Japan and the Asia Pacific portion of the war.

It is worth listening to — though it is 25+ hours in length across the multi-part series.

Aztecs & Spanish | From History of Conquest by William Prescott, 1843

Perhaps because it represents an heroic struggle against adversity, William Hickling Prescott's triumph over blindness often has been given more emphasis than his preeminence as an American historian.

The accident he suffered while a student at Harvard College was, it is true, a determining factor in the choice of his career. He was struck by a crust of hard bread and the sight of his left eye was destroyed. After graduation, when his right eye began to fail, he abandoned the practice of law in his father's office to seek medical advice in Europe. Living for almost all the rest of his life in a darkened room, he devoted himself to literary research.

His first great work was History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. After working for a time on a life of Moliere, he forsook it for his preparatory work on his History of the Conquest of Mexico. Washington Irving, who was doing research in the same field, withdrew in Prescott's favor. Because of his failing sight, he developed a phenomenal memory, upon which he depended during the time of his monumental labors.

Undeterred by his affliction, he undertook, after the completion of his Conquest of Peru, to revise Ticknor's History of Spanish Literature. His last work was the first two volumes of his unfinished History of Philip II, published in 1856. He died, in his sixtythird year, in 1859.

Opportunities | From Twitter by Tim Ferris, 2008

A 2008 e-mail I received from a mentor:

While many are wringing their hands, I recall the 1970s when we were suffering from an oil shock causing long lines at gas stations, rationing, and 55 MPH speed limits on federal highways, a recession, very little venture capital ($50 million per year into VC firms), and what President Jimmy Carter (wearing a sweater while addressing the nation on TV because he had turned down the heat in the White House) called a 'malaise.'

It was during those times that two kids without any real college education, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, started companies that did pretty well.

Opportunities abound in bad times as well as good times.

In fact, the opportunities are often greater when the conventional wisdom is that everything is going into the toilet.

Well… we’re nearing the end of another great year, and despite what we read about the outlook for 2009, we can look forward to a New Year filled with opportunities as well as stimulating challenges.

Education is one of the most critical aspects of our lives. It shapes our minds, skills, passions, and futures. But education is not only about what we learn from books or exams; it’s also about whom we know from our teachers. Teachers can profoundly impact our lives, sometimes without us even realizing it.

Tribalism | From Seeking Freedom by Sebastian Junger, 2021

Sebastian Junger is the New York Times bestselling author of Tribe, War, A Death in Belmont, Fire, and The Perfect Storm, and co-director of the documentary film Restrepo, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He is also the winner of a Peabody Award and the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He’s based in New York City and Cape Cod. His newest book is titled Freedom.

(He shared a few things, and has his own website, so I thought I would copy things in his own words below here as well!)

  • Berkshire Hathaway Complete Annual Reports (PDF) - Surprisingly no one has made a complete compilation of Berkshire Hathaway's annual reports. Individual years are freely available online but there are no completed works so I took the liberty of creating one. You can download it from my website. 

  • The Mystery of Curiosity (Video) - Tom Morgan from Sapient Capital

  • College Students are hitting the (Sports) Books (WSJ) - Not necessarily historical, but, I was able to contribute to a WSJ Opinion article about the proliferation of digital sports books as a grad student.

  • How China Works (Book) - Recently started reading this after hearing it recommended multiple times. Very dense, but straightforward and interesting. 


USPS Growing Package Volumes

If you found today’s issue interesting, more than anything, I would appreciate you forwarding it to someone that might also enjoy it. It is a big deal to me whenever someone reads my work, so I appreciate your support.

Have a great weekend,


Twitter / X: @HistoryEJ

Disclosure: Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice. More detailed disclosure here.

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