Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ten anti-poverty books

Felix Dennis is a poet, a publisher (of Maxim, "the world's biggest selling men's lifestyle magazine," among many other titles), and one of the richest men in Britain. But he was once poor.

He is the author of two collections of poetry, A Glass Half Full and Lone Wolf, and How to Get Rich, which he describes as "the world's first anti-self help book."

"Money may be the root of all evil, but what would we do without it? The books [named here] are not a guide to the getting of money," Dennis writes. "Instead, they are books that goaded me into abandoning poverty. Which is a different thing--at least, for those of us who have been poor."

Here is a sample from Dennis's list:
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

When all is said and done, what is this classic adventure (supposedly written for children, but read more often by adults) all about? It is about the getting of money. The hero is an annoying twerp. The so-called good-guys are cut from one-dimensional cloth. But the villain ... oh, the villain! Is there a better-drawn character in popular British fiction than Long John Silver? George Smiley cannot hold a candle to him. What a man! What a rotten, debased, money-driven, thieving, double-dealing pirate! And he redeems himself, too! The favourite book of my childhood and a model for my career since. (The edition illustrated by the great Ralph Steadman is the one to go for).

The Essays: Counsels Civil and Moral by Francis Bacon

Not a nice man. Not even a good writer, except in his ability to condense the mundane into wit: "Money is like muck, not good except it be spread." So why have his Essays remained by the side of my bed for years? Because he knows. Because he understands. Because he is as wise as he is vicious and as generous as he is wise. Along with Newton and Locke, Thomas Jefferson thought him "one the greatest men who has ever lived, without any exception". Bacon's counsels on wealth and negotiating are priceless. Were he alive today, he would eat Warren Buffett's lunch for breakfast.

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

I have to be kidding, right? Who in their right mind would wade through an unabridged version (and most abridged versions are a menace) of such a tome? My answer is: anyone who wants to understand capitalism and the conditions in which entrepreneurs survive and prosper. Besides, it's not as heavy going as you might think - especially if you purchase an edition with a running commentary in the margin and a superb index. There is a damn good reason this book is still in print 230 years after its first publication. Don't let its scholarly reputation put you off.
Felix Dennis has an interesting biography.

Click here to read an excerpt from How to Get Rich. A few passages:
Money did not make me happy. But it definitely improved my sex life.

I got rich without the benefit of a college education or a penny of capital but making many errors along the way. I went from being a pauper—a hippie dropout on the dole, living in a crummy room without the proverbial pot to piss in, without even the money to pay the rent, without a clue as to what to do next—to being rich.

If you cannot bear the thought of causing worry to your family, spouse or lover while you plough a lonely, dangerous road rather than taking the safe option of a regular job, you will never get rich.

Fear of failure is almost certainly the reason that you have not already begun to make yourself rich. It haunts all of us.
Dan Chiasson's profile of Maxim and Dennis in Slate a couple of years ago included this passage:
Dennis has wondered aloud whether he "may be one of the best poets of the first quarter of the 21st century"—a glass-half-full self-assessment if ever there was one—and compared himself, favorably, to Shakespeare. Tom Wolfe compares him to Kipling, denigrating, by the way, "the poor old mallarme'd and ezrapounded world of contemporary poetry." Indeed, there is something pastoral, even pre-modern, about most of Dennis' poems: They seem like the sort of thing A.E. Housman might have written if he had once published a biography of Bruce Lee.
--Marshal Zeringue