Friday, September 19, 2008

Review of The Richest Man in Babylon

The Richest Man in Babylon
is George S Clarson's widely acclaimed book on how to get wealthy. The book was first written in the 1920s and has been reprinted several times. Clarson's style of delivery is through the use of stories set in ancient Babylon, which was among the richest empires in the ancient world. Through the dialogues and the experiences the characters go through, Clarson masterfully puts across his "laws of Gold", "cures of a lean purse" and other tenets of wealth building and pathways to material wealth.
Clarson takes readers through the torment, wounded pride, frustration and mental anguish of ordinary people who struggle with back-breaking work, debts, slavery, empty purses and economic marginalization as they struggle to become men of means and he lights the path out of their economic and social quagmire.
The author dispenses his laws of wealth to such pensive, wealth-seeking characters through other characters, or agent provocateurs, who interrupt their thoughts, mostly posing as wise men, rich men or lucky men willing to share the secrets of their success, or “luck”.
The author does away with notions of luck being on the side of the wealthy and develops what he calls the laws of wealth instead, which he lays out. The first one is on saving a fraction (ten percent) of everything one earns. The author writes regarding saving:
"Wealth, like a tree, grows from a tiny seed. The first copper you save is the seed from which your tree of wealth shall grow. The sooner you plant that seed, the sooner the tree shall grow. And the more faithfully you nourish and water that tree with consistent savings, the sooner you may bask in contentment beneath its shade."
The basic maxim here is that "a part of all you learn is yours to keep"
Controlling one's expenditure is the next lesson. The next one is investing what one has saved so that it multiplies. Then be sure to invest on businesses you understand or with people who understand their trade to avoid losses. Next, own your own home so that you reduce expenses from rent and the like. Next, have a retirement plan for yourself and family for the days when you are no longer productive. Then increase your power to earn by being better at whatever you do. Be excellent, ensure customer satisfaction, have an eye for opportunities and reach for them fast. This is how to make your luck. "Men of action are favored by the goddess of good luck", he surmises. Lend wisely and protect your wealth.
The story I loved the most in this book that has around ten stories, is the one titled "The Camel Trader of Babylon." It is richly told, humorously and in an entertaining, sadistic tone. In fact, it leapt at me and I would argue the author of that story is different from that of the other stories in the book but I digress. The gist of the story is that when one is hungry, or desperate or when one has lost everything, one thinks very clearly and their determination is bolstered tenfold than when they are surrounded with mild comfort or still have other straws to grasp.
Armed with this lesson, the main character in the story, a wealthy man called Dabasir, seeks to impart the lesson in the most dramatic fashion when he happens upon a debt-ridden, penniless, starving young man called Tarkad.
Dabasir invites Tarkad to an eating house and orders for mouth-watering dishes for himself while ordering only water for Tarkad, whose stomach is rumbling with hunger. Dabasir orders food from the proprietor of the eating house thusly: "Fat lizard of the desert, bring to me a leg of the goat, very brown with much juice, and bread and all of the vegetables for I am hungry and want much food. Do not forget my friend here. Bring for him a jug of water. Have it cooled, for the day is hot"
Unlike the other old-wise-man characters in the book, Dabasir's style is pompous and flamboyant. His wit is sarcastic and he does not babysit the impudent young man to whom he wants to deliver his wise teachings. This is what makes this story stand apart from the rest. I can say its the only story I found entertaining. The story continues with Dabasir telling his story to the hungry young man undergoing the torture of agonizingly watching Dabasir biting "goodly chunks" from the delicious goat leg while Dabasir tells his story. ‘"When I was a young man" Dabasir continues with another vicious onslaught on the goat leg’, one passage says. At one point, Dabasir pauses from his goat-munching, story-telling orgy and asks the young man, "How about thee, Tarkad? Dost thy empty stomach make thy head exceedingly clear? Art thou ready to take the road that will leads back to self-respect?"
After telling his story of how he became a free man from a life of slavery, where a lady friend asked Dabasir whether he had the soul of a free man or of a slave and challenged him to prove he was a free man, and after being satisfied that the young man before him has understood the lesson, Dabasir ends his tale with flourish. He turns to his food and calls the proprietor: "Kauskor, thou snail, the food is cold. Bring me more meat fresh from the roasting. Bring thou also a very large portion for Tarkad, the son of my old friend, who is hungry and shall eat with me."
I found this story rich. The book is very well written and is valuable for anyone interested in how to get rich or get financial and material wealth.

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