50 Prosperity Classics: A book review by Bob Morris

50 Prosperity Classics: Attract It, Create It, Manage It,  Share It
Tom Butler-Bowdon
Nicholas Brealey Publishing (2008)

Henry Ford was right

Note: This is one of the volumes in the 5o Classics series, each available in a softbound edition and priced at less than $15.00. In my opinion, the value of the material in each volume is worth far more than that.

Of course, throughout human history, the subject of this book – prosperity — has been defined and measured as well as achieved in many different ways. Hence the importance of the fact that Butler-Bowdon offers a wide range of perspectives from the works of an especially diversified group that includes P.T. Barnum (The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules of Making Money, 1880), Andrew Carnegie (The Gospel of Wealth, 1889), Milton Friedman (Capitalism and Freedom, 1962), Benjamin Graham (The Intelligent Investor: A Book of Practical Counsel, 1949), Orison Swett Marden (Pushing to the Front, or Success under Difficulties, 1894), Ayn Rand (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 1966), and Adam Smith (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1778).

Note: Warren Buffett is also included. His contributions to this volume are from The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Second Edition, edited by Lawrence Cunningham, and published in 2008. Graham was Buffett’s idol, mentor, and eventually his business partner. If Buffett does not qualify as an “intelligent investor,” I have no idea who does.

Here are a few of his comments about some of those whom he discusses:

“Contrary to the image of Barnum as an over-the-top impresario, this book [i.e. The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules of Making Money] is actually a solid success manual. Some of the points may seem obvious, but it does not hurt to be reminded of them, especially the idea that personal virtue is the foundation of wealth. Without honesty and reputation, fortunes can disappear overnight; with these things, an enterprise or a service can create prosperity for all involved.” (Page 32)

“Some have viewed Carnegie’s attitude as altruistic. Yet he honestly believed that individuals, including himself, counted for little in relation to the progress of humanity overall…Carnegie set the modern standard for big-time philanthropy, and beyond the millions of lives enlightened by his libraries and other institutions, this is perhaps an even greater legacy.” (Page 67)

“Countries fashioned after the ideas of Adam Smith and Friedman should in theory be monsters of selfish consumption. But as Friedman pointed out, people want to be free not just so they can get rich, but to live according to deeply held values. Prosperity is not just about making money, but about the freedom to live the way you want.” (Page 115)

“In the Introduction to the original 1949 edition, Graham candidly notes the risk that his book `may not stand the test of future developments,’ any more than a finance book written in 1914 would be relevant to investors of the 1950s. In fact, The Intelligent Investor is considered by many people – despite many references to companies that have now faded into history – to be quite timeless. His humility only makes you trust him more, and he has a calm style and does not talk down to the reader.” (Page 13)

“The usual accusation leveled at Rand and her followers is of extremism. A more intelligent view is that she was a supreme rationalist who valued personal freedom to the highest degree. Capitalism to her was not just a system for people to get richer, but was the only system in which people were free to act according to their best interests. Today, because we take our comfortable lives for granted, we take capitalism granted as well.” (Page 237)

“The simplicity and common sense of Smith’s delineation of government’s role has largely stood the test of time. Today, governments have a tendency to grow large and bloated, moving into areas that are not really their business, but in time this inevitably makes the public poorer overall. Though they often believe in their ability to `pick winners’ in terms of subsidizing particular industries to create jobs, Smith warns that such investment tends to corrupt the natural tendency of a society to allocate resources in the best way.” (Pages 264-265)

As I work my way through the material in one of Butler-Bowen’s books, I realize again that Henry Ford was right when he asserted that “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” However different the contributors to each volume are in terms of who they were, when they lived, and what they accomplished, all of them seem totally convinced of the importance of believing in one’s self, especially when no one else does. To them, the term “self-help” correctly suggests the importance of assuming full responsibility for one’s values, attitudes, decisions, and (especially) behavior. That said, there is much of value to be learned from others who have achieved what Butler-Bowen characterizes as “authentic and lasting success” that has enriched their own lives as well as the lives of others by utilizing “the resources of the world to the greatest effect and with the minimum of waste.”

He realizes that he is providing “only a taste of the literature (the main ideas, context, and impact of each title)” while urging his readers to “feast on the real thing.” What he offers is by no means a buffet of entrepreneurial “hors d’oeuvres.” On the contrary, the content is solid and skillfully presented. I am convinced that many of those who read this book will then be encouraged to read (or re-read) “the real thing.” If Butler-Bowdon’s efforts accomplish nothing else, that will indeed be sufficient to earn the praise I think he has earned…and rightly deserves.


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