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A 25 Year Perspective on the Origins and Problems of Today's American Billionaires
on September 29, 2007
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to earn, spend, and give away billions of dollars without having to think about reining in your whims? That's the way Bill Gates and many other billionaires live now. All the Money in the World takes a look at those who have appeared on the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans over the last 25 years to see how these billionaires got on the list, what kept them on the list, and what the consequences of their wealth have been for their lives and those of their families.
Malcolm Forbes started this list to show that wealth counts, not inherited position (as the social 400 in New York had once implied). The list has now reached a point of having become an icon in an age of remarkable wealth building. A good part of the book shows how the list itself is beginning to influence the behavior of people who do and don't want to be seen on the list.
The amount of information contained in this book is staggering. In addition to hundreds of vignettes about wealthy individuals and families, there are also lots of lists of who does the most of whatever (earn, spend, divorce, have children, give away money, or own yachts).
You might expect that such a book would glamorize billionaires, but that's not the case. The authors do their best to keep a little distance between the glitz of wealth and power and the reality of what kind of people these are. In many cases, you'll quickly decide you don't like certain people . . . and certainly wouldn't want to use them as a role model.
Other books on the wealthy tend to make them seem like they are superior in many ways, but that's not the reality as this book shows. I was particularly impressed to see that the book contained a discussion of how some piles of money are created by accidental factors. Of those who earned their own wealth (the majority), extreme risk taking was often rewarded when huge increases in prices turned poor cash flow into an asset-based bonanza.
Some of the factoids will fascinate you. Bill Gates had wealth in 2006 greater than the annual GDP of 11 African countries with a combined population of 226 people. The authors also adjust wealth over time by comparing it to GDP in the United States which allows you to compare Bill Gates to John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Perhaps the most interesting factoid is that those without much education are worth a lot more money than those with a lot of education. Card players will be intrigued to find out that many fortunes were started from poker winnings.
For those who love gossip, some sections positively reek of gossip.
Here is how the book is organized:
Part One: What It Takes
Chapter 1 -- Education, Intelligence, Drive
Chapter 2 -- Risk
Chapter 3 -- Luck and Timing
Chapter 4 -- Winning Is Everything
Part Two: Making It
Chapter 5 -- Blue-Collar Billionaires
Chapter 6 -- West Coast Money
Chapter 7 -- Entertainment and Media
Chapter 8 -- Beyond Wall Street
Part Three: Spending It
Chapter 9 -- Conspicuous Consumption
Chapter 10 -- Heirs
Chapter 11 -- Family Feuds
Chapter 12 -- Giving It Away
Chapter 13 -- Power and Politics
Afterword -- Money and Happiness
I have studied how billion-dollar businesses are created for many years, and have often surveyed wealthy entrepreneurs in that process. In addition, I try to stay up-to-date on what's going on with the wealthiest people as part of my studies for the 400 Year Project. But a great deal of the information in the book (about 30 percent) was new to me. If you are not so focused on the wealthy as I am, you'll probably find more than half of the book will be new to you.
The book is a pretty fast read if you skim over anecdotes you already know.
Have a rich experience!