If you are like me－a 20-something who just starts working but have no idea where to start on the road to financial freedom, look no further－The Richest Man in Babylon offers tips, rules, , as well as concrete advice, and above all hope. If you don’t mind the archaic-style English (Ten years ago when I stood at the gates of manhood, thou bade me go forth and become a man among men, instead of remaining a vassal to thy fortune) which I found actually accessible, and at times beautiful and enjoyable, it can easily be one of the most rewarding reads on the subject matter.
Published almost a century ago (1920s), the book failed not to make bold claims:
Like the law of gravity, these laws of money are universal and unchanging. May they prove to be for you, as they have proven to so many others, a sure key to a fat purse, larger bank balances and gratifying financial progress.
Although the analogy sounds corny and overly certain, which reminds me of The Secret and The Law of Attraction, the advice given in this one －for acquiring, keeping and multiplying wealth are, surprisingly, humble and solid. It does not tell you to think your way to wealth and success, but instead warns you against risky and wishful proposals that may steal your wealth from you. In fact, the advice offered here are so simple that a quick look at it easily fools you into thinking that they are not worth your time and concern. And there are some that may not adapt well in a modern economy. For example, one of the Seven Cures of a Lean Purse advises for owning your home to guarantee the wellbeing of your family as well as to save future rental expenses. As I live in Hong Kong, one of the most expensive-living city in the world, I take it not as applicable advice (especially when I am so young and not earning much). However, reading with the same active and critical awareness through the whole book (which produces the notes above) also allows me to appreciate the beauty of the other sounder and adaptable advice:
1st cure: No matter how much you earn, one-tenth of it is yours to keep
2nd cure: That what each of us call ‘necessary expenses’ will always grow to equal our earnings unless we protest to the contrary
3rd cure: Let the gold you earn work for you to make more gold－its children－ to earn even more, and its children of children to earn still more.
The main messages of the book are clear and delivered in delightful tales with the witty flair like One Thousand and One Nights. Sure they inevitably repeat themselves along the way, but there are silver linings to it: you remember them by heart as soon as you finish the tales and the book. If you would go to as much trouble as I did to make notes of it, then all more you will find them enjoyable and digestable. Indeed, reading the tales in The Richest Man in Babylon reminds me of the good old time when the only lessons we need to learn come from the stories we read－delightful, exciting and unforced.
In addition to the rules of creating wealth, keeping it and making it grow, the authors attribute individual sessions to cover more mundane wealth management matters such as whether you should loan to your sister’s start-up eager husband, or how to get out of a huge loan you ran away from and abandon your wife for; there is even one session solely dedicated to the discussion of luck and gambling.
What I like most about this book, perhaps even more than the advice themselves, is its consistently light-hearted, humorous and calm tone. For one who has read much self-help, I can only compare it to Betrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness－good self-help minus the upsale and bullshit.
Take not my words for it. Read it, see for yourself－and be prepared to embrace some old magical wisdom.
Title: The Richest Man in Babylon
Amazon Average Rating: 4.7/5
Free Reader’s Rating: 4.5/5
Review date: 28 January, 2016