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157 of 193 people found the following review helpful
A Few Good Ideas, Beaten to Death
on November 30, 2004
I am going out on a limb and disagreeing with the mass of reviewers who have raved over this book. I just can't see what the big deal is. Yes, it does present some great advice in a creative way, but I wasn't awestruck by how entertaining it was or what deep wisdom it takes to tell people to save money. I'll also mention that I'm not down on "The Richest Man in Babylon" because it makes me feel guilty or inadequate; I was already practicing the principles Clason preaches when I read it. First I will comment on the writing and style, and then give my reaction to the book's message.
This book wasn't written as a book, but as a series of pamphlets, and it shows. The style is consistent, but the points get very repetitive. This isn't the author's fault, since he wasn't trying to write a book for reading in one sitting, but it reduced my enjoyment. The writing style is highly affected. To give a flavor of antiquity, the dialogue is written in the style of English used in the time of Shakespeare and King James--the same king whose name was given to the King James Bible. I think this is a device that works better in small doses; I quickly found it pompous and tiresome. I have read a lot of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and I much prefer the real thing to this pale imitation. I will note that one story/pamphlet is set in modern times and is mostly written in modern English. Looking past the style, Clason is a decent storyteller, and I found the chapters with a plot were entertaining, but many chapters are more lectures in fictional settings than stories, and I found these to be monotonous.
The wealth-building system that is advocated ad nauseam is to devote 10% of income to debt reduction and 10% to investments. The fictional version of Babylon isn't equipped with modern markets, so the characters are more entrepeneurs than investors, but there is lots of flowery language about the power of compounded earnings. Along the way there is the obligatory call for home ownership, but the subject of renting vs. buying isn't covered in depth. The main message of the book is motivational rather than financial: it's basically a series of lectures on the benefits and satisfactions of being in control of your financial life, with a candy wrapping. I thought the book totally ducked the part of the system that's the hardest for most people, which is to live on 80% of your income. The attitude that I perceived was a cavalier "anyone can do it." Well, anyone who is reasonably well off can do it, but some people have to choose between buying food and medicine, and not all of them are wasteful spendthrifts. But maybe people in such straits don't read this kind of book, so maybe it doesn't matter.
I was already investing over 10% of my income and living debt-free (except for the obligatory mortgage) when I read this book, so it didn't change my life. If my finances were a mess and I was inclined to do something about it, I can imagine I would be inspired by the ideas in this book. On the other hand, if my finances were a mess and I was not inclined to reform, I can't imagine this book would change my behavior any more successfully than a modern tell-it-like-it-is book. Obviously people are inspired by different approaches, and this book has inspired many reviewers, but if I knew anyone seeking inspiration to straighten out their financial life, I would suggest they skim "The Millionaire Next Door", which shows how modern real people successfully manage finances, and skip "The Richest Man in Babylon".