The "Planning To Retire" articles are not intended as an introduction to personal finance or retirement planning. Even if I were qualified to write such an introduction (and I am not), many others have gotten there before me and done, I suspect, a substantially better job than I could have. Therefore below I list specific books that I believe will prepare the reader to understand this series.
The Absolute Basics
Get A Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties – Beth Kobliner – Fireside – 6/6/2000 – This is the single best book I've read on basic finance. Ms. Kobliner covers issues like insurance, loans, bank accounts, etc. The advice this book has given me has literally saved me thousands of dollars in insurance and other costs.
The Four Pillars of Investing : Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio – William J. Bernstein – McGraw-Hill – 4/26/2002 – If I could only own one book on investing this would be it. Mr. Bernstein's clear prose, concise explanations and general wit makes the fundamental principles of investing easy to digest. I assume that anyone reading the "Planning To Retire" series has either read this book or has equivalent knowledge.
Good Back Ups
A Random Walk Down Wall Street – Burton G. Malkiel – W. W. Norton & Company – numerous editions – If I could have two books on investing this would be the second one. Mr. Malkiel strips Wall Street down to its fundamentals and explains how investing really works. Bernstein's book was explicitly written to be "finance for poets", Malkiel's is intended to be "finance for people who are interested in finance" so he goes into a lot more detail than Bernstein. I love this book so much I actually own and have read the sixth, seventh and eighth editions.
The Index Fund Solution : A Step-By-Step Investor's Guide – Richard E. Evans and Burton G. Malkiel – Simon & Schuster – 3/21/2000 – Both of the previous two books argue that index funds are the way to go when investing in equities and most bonds. That was enough to convince me but reading this book was actually a really nice adjunct as it focuses exclusively on the issue on index funds and explains in gory (but very easy to understand) detail why they are the right choice over individual stocks or managed funds.
Worry-Free Investing : A Safe Approach to Achieving Your Lifetime Financial Goals – Zvi Bodie & Michael Clowes – Financial Times Prentice Hall – 5/13/2003 – Unfortunately I didn't really enjoy the prose of this book. I found it's tone ranged from condescending to didactic. But it is an easy read and it's ideas directly led to the 'minimum retirement' portion of our retirement strategy.
For Those Who Enjoy Finance
Reminiscences of a Stock Operation – Edwin Lefevre – Wiley – 5/11/1994 – This book was first published in 1923 and is the semi-fictionalized story of Jesse Livermore a master "stock operator", that is, someone who made their money manipulating the stock market. Amongst other things Mr. Livermore is apparently accused of having caused the 1929 stock market crash that signaled the start of the Great Depression. This book taught me a lot about how finance works in the real world. Don't let its age fool you, as the latest scandal ridden headlines should illustrate, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.