I’ve been putting off this review for a while now. In fact, I finished this book about three months ago and since then it’s been sitting on my coffee table like a paper albatross reminding me that I should probably write this review. This is honestly my fifth attempt.
Which isn’t to say that I hated “The Richest Man in Babylon” — I didn’t… but I didn’t love it either.
Ok, so that’s unintentionally harsh, and maybe if it had been the first book I had read on the topic my review would be kinder, but there’s nothing particularly ground breaking here – there’s certainly nothing in the book that hasn’t been said before. Although, to be fair, this is probably the first book to say those things. After all, the book is almost a hundred years old.
So what is “The Richest Man in Babylon” about?
To begin, it helps to know that the book isn’t really book at all. It’s actually a collection of short stories/parables that were once published individually as pamphlets — pamphlets that were distributed by various banks and insurance brokers to be read by their patrons. The stories apparently proved so popular that someone came up with the bright idea to group them together and publish them as a book. This was back in 1926.
Knowing the historical background of the book is helpful because it explains why “The Richest Man in Babylon” feels a little disjointed when you read it. It also explains the repetition. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this until after I had finished reading it. Had I known, I might have felt less confused when reading the same piece of financial advice for the third time. Seriously, the book is pretty repetitive.
In all the book contains about a dozen or so stories that generally have the same set up: poor guy can’t catch a break, poor guy visits rich friend for advice, poor guy emulates rich friend, poor guy is no longer poor. It’s simple, but it works.
My lack of enthusiasm aside, there’s a lot of solid advice here. Albeit nothing ground breaking — just your typical stuff like “save 10% of every dollar that you earn”, “avoid debt”, and “invest your savings”, etc. That pretty much sums it up. Consequently, the book is also pretty short and the font is large, so it makes for a quick read. Perfect for a long flight or a quiet weekend.
If you hated reading Shakespeare in high school, you’ll probably find the flowery language here off putting. For some reason the author chose to use a lot of verbs that end with “th” like “cometh” and “laboreth”. The writing isn’t hard to understand, it’s just weird. I’m not sure why the author chose to write in this style, although I suspect he did it to give his stories a faux sense of authority while trying to make it fun. It just doesn’t fit with the other strange aspect of this book, which is the choice to use the whole Babylonian motif in the first place. Neither decision furthers the book’s purpose, and they probably detract from the overall message. It almost feels like an Indiana Jones movie went on a date with Adam Smith’s book “The Wealth of Nations” and ended up with a baby. It’s half adventure book, half serious book about finances.
Did I mention the book repeats itself? Because it does.
Perhaps it’s unfair to criticize this book on the following point, since almost every book I’ve read about early retirement commits this sin… but since the book is nearly one hundred years old, I think it’s fair to assume that “The Richest Man in Babylon” is entirely guilty for creating the following trend: telling you to invest your money, without ever telling you how.
You have no idea how much this annoys me. Actually, it doesn’t, but it’s something I’ve noticed a lot lately. I understand all of the saving money and not getting into debt stuff… but what I really want to know (and what I think everybody wants to know) is how do I turn a couple shekels into a hundred! This book doesn’t do that.
Again, maybe I’ve become a little cynical, but almost every book I’ve read about early retirement says something to the effect that you need to multiply your savings by investing it. “Rich Dad Poor Dad” does it. “Your Money or Your Life” does it. But when it comes to giving you ideas on how to invest your money, crickets. Always crickets…
…well that’s not true, RDPD does suggest opening an à-la-carte comic book library, where you charge your friends to read your comics by the hour.
If you haven’t read any financial self-help books before, this book is probably as good a place to start as any. The stories are super simple to understand and it’s a fairly short book, so you won’t spend a million hours just to get to the point.
If you’ve already read a few of the more modern iterations of this kind of book, however, I would suggest skipping this one since you’re not going to learn anything new. In fact, you’ll just be reading the same advice again, except not just once, but probably twice or thrice.
As always, I thanketh thee for reading-eth,