Let’s face it, rarely do you overhear a backyard barbeque conversation about the latest best-selling encyclopedia that your neighbor was reading, but simply couldn’t put down … But Joe Mysak, a columnist/author whose name is well known in the municipal bond industry, has achieved the near-impossible: He has written a comprehensive, informative reference book that is, at the same time, an enjoyable read.

Author Joe Mysak is truly a specialist who understands the nuances of this niche industry.

The Encyclopedia of Municipal Bonds is a compilation of definitions, explanations, anecdotes, and even legends. Did you know that Arkansas was the most recent state to default on its general obligation municipal bonds – and that was back in 1933? What exactly is a charter school? Remember “the blue list?” What happened in Jefferson County, Alabama? This book speaks to readers who answer “yes,” “no,” or “what?” to any of these questions.

Several things separate this book from others in its class.

For one, Mysak wrote it. It is not a collection of essays written by other authors. That means that from the first words of the introduction to the last encyclopedia entry, readers are treated to Mysak’s conversational – often entertaining – writing style. It also means that whether a seasoned municipal bond analyst, or a casual observer of the markets, readers are bound to walk away with a clear understanding of its content. Mysak is truly gifted in both his ability to simplify the complicated, and to add flavor to what some may consider dry or bland subject matter.

Secondly, Mysak wrote it. Pardon the redundancy. But Mysak brings more than 30 years of experience writing about the municipal bond market. He is truly a specialist who understands the nuances of this niche industry.

Third, in Joe Mysak’s own words, “it is one of the only books, maybe even the only book, on the subject, that wasn’t written by someone trying to sell something.” Mysak explains that he is not selling banking services, municipal bonds, or investment advice. “Because of that,” he says, “I frequently take critical stances that you won’t find in other books.”

Timing is everything.

“What a terrible time to bring out a book on this subject,” Mysak says. Maybe so… Or maybe the timing is perfect. Municipal bonds – and public finance in general – have long been ignored because, well, not much was going on. Not the case nowadays. Public scrutiny and awareness are heightened, and municipal stories have made it to the mainstream media. Mysak himself says, “so much has happened since submitting the final manuscript” – which is why the timing may be somewhat serendipitous. There is so much going on in the industry that it is capturing the attention of a broader audience, many of whom are looking to understand this market previously (and maybe still?) overshadowed by its equity counterpart.

When asked how the book might have been different had it been published a decade ago, Mysak’s response: “I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to write it. [A large segment of] the book’s audience, the vast number of people who claim tax-free interest every year, didn’t quite exist. What I mean by that is that people, bond buyers, were almost willfully ignorant of the market.” Many investors didn’t really want to know anything about their municipal bonds, he says, partly because bond insurance, which still dominated the market, somewhat homogenized the product.

Despite all the changes and challenges over the past decade, Mysak is optimistic about the municipal market, which he calls a resilient one. “I hope issuers are more skeptical, both of enterprise finance and the smart ideas bankers try to sell them. I hope investors take advantage of all the good disclosure issuers put out nowadays, or at least read the official statements put to the bonds they buy. And I know the press is going to be more observant.”

As a matter of policy, MuniNet Guide steadfastly refrains from offering investment advice. But we can offer this piece of advice: If you are looking for a book that will demystify or clarify the municipal bond market, look no further than your local (or online) bookstore. The Encyclopedia of Municipal Bonds will not disappoint. You may even find yourself recommending it to a neighbor at your next backyard barbeque.