Yeah, you read the title right.
So much of human knowledge has not changed. When it comes to human interaction, the circumstances and the situation may have changed but underneath it all, we're still human beings. We're still the same human beings as a hundred years ago, as four hundred years ago… you get the picture.
Today, in 2017, we're still debating immigration/travel bans, keeping refugees out, and about how immigrants are stealing “our” jobs (among other things). In the 1800s, during the industrial revolution, there were the exact same complaints except replace Muslim with German, Irish, and English. All of this has happened before and will happen again.
When I started getting involved in marketing online, I read a lot of direct response marketing books from the early 1900s. There was no internet in the 1900s. The Wright Brothers had their first flight in December of 1903. The Model T Ford had its first production run in October of 1908. The television wouldn't be in people's homes until the 1920s… but I read those early books and learned a ton. The pioneers and masters of classified ads, direct mail, and other skills honed in the early 1900s, when marketing was more expensive, contained absolute gems you'll see repeated in books today.
If we stand on the shoulder of giants, why not lean down and ask them for advice?
The same is true for money.
There are plenty of books, written before anyone alive today was born, that can offer us advice on money — most of them are free!
Poor Richard's Almanack by Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard's Almanack was the annual publication of famed polymath Benjamin Franklin. You might have heard about him…. his face graces our hundred dollar bills (little-known fact: the phrase “all about the Benjamins” is about the $100 bill and not Ben Franklin himself!), no big deal.
Among many other things, he put together the Poor Richard's Almanack and you can think of them as the early version of those ubiquitous Uncle John's Bathroom Readers (Uncle John also has collected quite a few Benjamins). It's estimated that he sold 10,000 copies a year for 25 years and it was one of his most profitable enterprises.
It covers a lot of topics, not just finance, but a lot of common phrases you hear today draw their origins from his Almanack.
Archive.org has a copy of the 1914 edition and there are compendiums online such as this one – Wit and Wisdom from Poor Richard's Almanack. It was “published” in 1914 but we know that Franklin lived from 1706-1790.
Art of Money Getting by P.T. Barnum
Written in 1880 by the same guy that started the now-closed traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He was quite the entrepreneur hustler, or scammer depending on who you ask, but he wrote a pretty good book called the Art of Money Getting.
Who doesn't want to get money?
You can read the whole book online here. If you prefer to buy a bound copy, you can pick one up this one on Bookshop.org too.
The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
Any list of personal finance classics will list this classic by George S. Clason. The Richest Man in Babylon is a fictional story but it uses these stories to share key money principles as applicable today as they were in 1926, when the book was first published. There's no single idea but it's a collection of common sense personal finance concepts wrapped in an easy to read series of stories.
Clason himself is kind of an interesting character. His claim to fame was his successful company, the Clason Map Company. He published the first road atlas (remember those? probably not!) of the United States. He also started the Clason Publishing Company and produced pamphlets about frugality and thrift. Supposedly, the phrase “Pay yourself first” is attributed to him.
The Path of Prosperity by James Allen
James Allen was an author who lived from 1864 to 1912 and one of his most famous works is The Path to Prosperity, which is actually Part 1 of a two-part work titled “From poverty to power; or, the realization of prosperity and peace” written in 1901. They'd later be published as two books.
This book isn't one about money lessons, it's more about shaping your attitude and reactions to what happens in life:
The rich man who is barren of virtue is, in reality, poor, and as surely, as the waters of the river are drifting to the ocean, so surely is he, in the midst of all his riches, drifting towards poverty and misfortune; and though he die rich, yet must he return to reap the bitter fruit of all of his immorality.
And though he become rich many times, yet as many times must he be thrown back into poverty, until, by long experience and suffering he conquers the poverty within.
But the man who is outwardly poor, yet rich in virtue, is truly rich, and, in the midst of all his poverty he is surely traveling towards prosperity; and abounding joy and bliss await his coming. If you would become truly and permanently prosperous, you must first become virtuous.
It is therefore unwise to aim directly at prosperity, to make it the one object of life, to reach out greedily for it, To do this is to ultimately defeat yourself.
But rather aim at self-perfection, make useful and unselfish service the object of your life, and ever reach out hands of faith towards the supreme and unalterable Good.
Published in 1901.
You can read all of his work online at the James Allen Free Library or get physical books like The Path of Prosperity on Bookshop.org (or, you may be better off getting his entire life's work in Mind is the Master: The Complete James Allen Treasury).
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Napoleon Hill, third only to Bonaparte and Dynamite in fame, is probably one of the most well-known authors on this list. Think and Grow Rich was first published in 1937 and contained his thirteen steps to riches (it's only 80 years old but still old!). In just 13 steps, you would learn the secrets to amassing great wealth – that's quite a deal! Hill was said to have connected with five hundred of the most successful people and distilled their secrets into those thirteen steps.
Anyone reading the pitch would feel it's a bit over the top, and some of the steps are a little bit, but many are intuitive and you just need a reminder. I've personally internalized some of them without even knowing it. For example, #9 is the power of the master mind, which is the idea that two heads are better than one. A group of brains, a Master Mind, will provide more energy than a single one. When I started my first blog, Bargaineering, I was in a de facto “Master Mind” (nowadays people call them Masterminds) with other bloggers at the time.
You can download the Think and Grow Rich PDF here. (courtesy of Jaime of Eventual Millionaire)
What's your timeless money classic?
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Matt Miller says
Think and Grow Rich is a classic that when I first read Think and Grow Rich I thought it was a bit over the top. But a lot of that age-old money wisdom makes sense 100 years later. One of my favorite investing books is Buffettology by Mary Buffett. I read this several times in high school and thank God I did.
I loved reading ‘The Richest Man in Babylon” and this post just inspired me to re-read it. Thanks!
Jim Wang says
Lazy Man and Money says
It might not be 100 years old, but Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham might be worth a nod.
You may need massage the dates to give credit for when he started teaching it in 1928 (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Intelligent_Investor). I realize that still doesn’t get you to 100, but at that point, what’s a few more years? 😉
Jim Wang says
Ha, that is a good read… but a little dense and perhaps a little too focused for a general money book. Definitely a solid pick though!
Susan Lowell says
I’d add Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations , a charming read that is a lot about financial interconnectedness, systems and awareness.
Many of these, PT Barnum’s included, are available for free download and some are in audio formats as well.
Also, only a young 75, but Warren Buffet consistently recommends Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and credits it with his business success
Jim Wang says
Yes, all of these are free somewhere in some form…
How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great book, even if it’s not specifically about money.
Michael Mroczka says
I liked “The Richest Man in Babylon” & “Think and Grow Rich” but two more to add from the recent category which are excellent are “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley (Living Frugally) & “The Simple Path to Wealth” by J. L. Collins (Simple & Easy, Low Cost, Self Driven Investing). I Highly, Highly, recommend both book but The Simple Path is My Bible of Money Books.
Damn Millennial says
The Richest Man in Babylon is excellent. The basics to achieve wealth are so simple yet so many people come up short. I just re read that book this week and it is so easy to similarities to our working world today.
John Feola says
Andrew Carnegie Gospel of Wealth should be in there. Good list, John
A very good list John. I have already bookmarked it and will share it to my social commnity. My favorite one is already on the top The Richest Man in Babylon. I will also subscribe to your blog for more posts like this in my inbox.