Rothchild jour­nal­ist who wrote about fi­nance dies

Antelope Valley Press - - WEATHER / OBITUARIES - By BRIAN C. CHEN

John Rothchild, a pro­lific jour­nal­ist who used hu­mor to turn books about per­sonal fi­nance into en­gag­ing reads, in­clud­ing sev­eral in col­lab­o­ra­tion with suc­cess­ful in­vestor Peter Lynch and one ti­tled “A Fool and His Money,” died on Dec. 27 at a care fa­cil­ity in Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia. He was 74.

His daugh­ter Sascha Rothchild said the cause was com­pli­ca­tions of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Rothchild be­gan his jour­nal­ism ca­reer in the 1970s as a po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor at Wash­ing­ton Monthly be­fore be­com­ing a free­lance writer for out­lets like Time, GQ and Out­side. He wrote about Florida, where he was raised, as well as moun­tain climb­ing and cy­cling, hob­bies he adopted later in life, and per­sonal fi­nance.

He picked up the per­sonal fi­nance bug in the 1980s. One of his best­known books, “A Fool and His Money” (1988), sub­ti­tled “The Odyssey of an Aver­age In­vestor,” was rec­og­nized for its com­i­cally ab­surd guar­an­tee: Readers would not earn a penny from the in­for­ma­tion it con­tained.

“No work on the sub­ject of per­sonal fi­nance has even tried to make this claim be­fore,” satirist P.J. O’Rourke wrote in a fore­word to the book. “That is be­cause works on the sub­ject of per­sonal fi­nance are all ly­ing.”

Crit­ics ap­pre­ci­ated the nov­elty of Rothchild’s ap­proach.

“We are ac­cus­tomed to the in­vest­ment ad­vice book in which the au­thor tries to prove him­self more ex­pert than his au­di­ence,” Christo­pher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in a re­view in The New York Times. “Not so com­mon is the in­vest­ment ad­vice book in which the au­thor tries to prove him­self dumber than the rest of us.”

“As such,” he added, “it is highly amus­ing and also strangely in­for­ma­tive.”

The book sold well, and ac­cord­ing to Rothchild’s daugh­ter it caught the eye of Peter Lynch, the for­mer man­ager of the Mag­el­lan Fund at Fidelity In­vest­ments. Rothchild and Lynch col­lab­o­rated on sev­eral pop­u­lar books on stock trad­ing. Their “One Up on Wall Street” (1989) “Beat­ing the Street” (1993) and “Learn to Earn” (1995) were all Times best­sellers.

In “One Up on Wall Street,” the au­thors em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of do­ing real-world re­search when choos­ing com­pa­nies to in­vest in.

One case study in­volved the Hanes cloth­ing brand. In the early 1970s, Hanes sold pan­ty­hose called L’eggs, pack­aged in col­or­ful plas­tic eggs, for a low price in gro­cery out­lets and drug­stores, where peo­ple shop weekly. In con­trast, com­peti­tors fo­cused on sell­ing more ex­pen­sive pan­ty­hose at depart­ment stores.

Hanes went on to be­come one of the big­gest stocks of the decade, thanks in part to the suc­cess of L’eggs. The les­son? Lynch had heard about L’eggs not from a stock­bro­ker but from his wife, and later did the re­search on the com­pany’s bal­ance sheet.

Rothchild’s clever prose made the books ac­ces­si­ble to aver­age peo­ple, Lynch said in an in­ter­view.

“I was the fire hose throw­ing stuff at John all the time and he’d com­press it,” he said. “I couldn’t have imag­ined if I’d spent years in­ter­view­ing a thou­sand peo­ple I’d get any­one as ta­lented as John.”

Friends and fam­ily mem­bers de­scribed Rothchild as in­tensely fo­cused. For some time he was ob­sessed with the card game du­pli­cate bridge, un­til he dropped it in fa­vor of bi­cy­cling and moun­tain climb­ing.

“He would find some­thing, not let it go, and then at some point he’d say, ‘I’ve done enough of that,’” said writer Daniel Okrent, a close friend.

John Har­mon Rothchild was born on May 13, 1945, in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, to Tom and Bar­bara (Cal­loway) Rothchild. He grew up in St. Peters­burg, Florida, where his fa­ther was a high school prin­ci­pal and his mother ran a dress shop.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school in 1963 he stud­ied Latin Amer­i­can af­fairs at Yale, where he was the man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of The Yale Daily News and be­came a Ful­bright scholar. He earned his bach­e­lor’s de­gree in 1967. He then joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ecuador be­fore he started work­ing for Wash­ing­ton Monthly.

Rothchild met his fu­ture wife, Su­san Berns, while cov­er­ing the 1972 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Mi­ami. His daugh­ter said that he met Berns, a Man­hat­tan so­cialite-turned-bo­hemian and daugh­ter of the owner of the “21” Club, at a Mi­ami man­sion. She in­vited him to ac­com­pany her to the Ba­hamas, and they col­lab­o­rated on “Chil­dren of the Coun­ter­cul­ture” (1976), a book about chil­dren raised on com­munes, be­fore they mar­ried on New Year’s Eve in 1976.

ROTHCHILD

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