The Richest Man in Babylon has become one of my favorite books. My dad traditionally gives it to each member of our family as we graduate high school, and I can see why: it’s exceptionally inspiring and teaches well many important financial principles. Its use of parables to teach these principles is something I find particularly helpful; it makes the advice the book contains very relatable and interesting to read.
My biggest regret regarding the book is that I waited four-and-a-half years after graduation to finally read it.
The majority of the book is set in ancient Babylon, which is said to be a capitol city of temporal wealth. Here, the scene is set for many characters in its stories to tell of their success, how they came to be wealthy and happy in the face of adversities. Nearly every chapter is a new parable, telling the stories of some men so deep in debt they found themselves sold into slavery and others who simply decided to live on a little less and save ten percent of their earnings.
One of my favorite pieces of the book was chapter 3, Seven Cures for a Lean Purse, in which the richest man in Babylon himself, Arkad, shares under command of the king the rules by which he leads his financial life:
- “Start thy purse to fattening” (save ten percent)
- “Control thy expenditures” (“Were a pack-ass to budget his burden would he include therein jewels and rugs and heavy bars of gold? Not so. He would include hay and grain and a bag of water for the desert trail.” “Realise thy most cherished desires by defending them from thy casual wishes.”)
- “Make thy gold multiply”
- “Guard thy treasures from loss”
- “Make of thy dwelling a profitable investment”
- “Insure a future income”
- “Increase thy ability to earn” (Remember that “general desires are but weak longings”, but plans and goals cam make a hard-working person very skilled and highly valued.)
One of the most compelling things I find in this book is that it’s often older merchants giving hard-earned advice to people my age. For example, one of the final chapters entitled The Luckiest Man in Babylon is about Sharru Nada, a man leading a caravan from Damascus to do some trading in Babylon. He rides next to Hadan Gula, the grandson of one of his oldest, dearest friends, and feels compelled to tell the bejeweled young man how he because so successful.
Due to great misfortune, he had become a slave to repay the debt of his brother. As he and his chained companions were first led to the gates of Babylon, they worried over how they might avoid the back-breaking work of hauling bricks for the wall the rest of their lives. One suggested greedily that they simply do the bare minimum, living life as leisurely as possible in spite of their enslaved station.
Another submitted that hard work can be one’s dearest friend, that industry and personal dedication to tasks, no matter how menial, can be the best defense against the adversity of life. They all went to the slave trader the next day, some deciding to work and others deciding to avoid it.
The latter thought turned to be the right one; for, those who worked gained great favor with their masters. They gained a reputation in the city as people worth trusting. As Sharru Nada spoke to his friend’s grandson, he revealed that the friend had been a slave, too—but through his example of industry in working beyond his obligation to his master, the boy’s grandfather saw an opportunity, earned his own freedom, and freed the man who inspired him. Meanwhile, those who had decided not to work eventually lost their lives at the hands of their foremen after many long months working on the city walls.
Hadan lost his desire to be lazy and simply be rich for a living, and began riding in reverence behind his grandfather’s friend as he led the caravan.
The great wealth of Babylon as illustrated in The Richest Man in Babylon was won not by conquest or great, instantaneous good fortune, but rather by many people willing to exercise patience and self-control and have faith in the “get rich slow” scheme. Personal wealth, then, perhaps was gained in the waiting and working done by these men, not in the saving of money; they all found far more joy, it seems, in their personal growth than in their monetary gain.
Clason, George S. The Richest Man in Babylon. Reprint ed. Signet, 2001. Print.
The book can be purchased here. I highly recommend it for anyone seeking inspiration on taking control of their financial life!