The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason – Book Summary

The Richest Man in Babylon summary – the following is a summary of the book The Richest Man in Babylon by Geaorge S. Classon

The Richest Man in Babylon is a classic and a “handbook” for many super successful entrepreneurs. It cleverly uses the art of storytelling to teach the principles of wealth and financial success.

If you ever had problems with “wordy” personal development books on creating financial freedom then this book is for you.

The lessons on financial success is simple, easy to understand and to the point. It is told in a way that stays with you – which is the power of good storytelling through parables.

The Richest Man in Babylon – What is it All About?

Written by George Samuel Clason, it gives financial advice through a compilation of parables set in ancient Babylon.

The characters in the parables learn by their experiences in managing household finances and simple business lessons, how to be financially astute.

Although these parables are based in ancient times they involve situations that we can identify with and therefore understand in our world today, and the wisdom is as relevant now as it was in ancient Babylon.

The Richest Man in Babylon is made up of several short stories and each chapter builds on the initial story and restates past ones and introduces new ones.

This allows the reader to gradually gain an understanding of the simple principles involved to manage personal finances.

The chapters are:

  • The Man Who Desired Gold
  • The Richest Man in Babylon
  • Seven Cures for a Lean Purse
  • Meet the Goddess of Good Luck
  • The Five Laws of Gold
  • The Gold Lender of Babylon
  • The Walls of Babylon
  • The Camel Trader of Babylon
  • The Clay Tablets from Babylon
  • The Luckiest Man in Babylon
  • An Historical Sketch of Babylon

The Man Who Desired Gold

The story begins with the character Bansir a chariot maker who is stressed as he struggles to provide his family with the luxuries they desire. He is faced with a problem common to us all, working hard but not earning enough money, which leads him to wonder how he can become wealthier.

This common condition is one that all readers can relate to, as even the wealthiest desires more. Bansir knows that he is not a lazy man, as he works hard building chariots for a living, he is a good tradesman and his work is highly prized.

Yet despite this he thinks he should be able to give more money to his family.

Bansir meets his friend Kobbi and they discuss their equally difficult financial situations, as they sit on the wall outside Bansir’s home and look down at the king’s palace below. The city is full of life, as people go busily about their lives.

Kobbi’s presence shows us that there is always someone worse of than we think we are, as although Bansir does not have a lot of money he gains more from his employment than Kobbi earns as a musician.

Arkad

The two men discuss why only a few thrive and prosper whilst most people struggle to survive. During their conversation Kobbi mentions that he recently saw Arkad who is an old friend of theirs, riding in his golden chariot. Arkad used to be a humble worker like them, but now he is considered the richest man in Babylon.

Instead of wasting valuable time sitting on his wall moaning about their problems, Bansir indicates that they should seek the advice of someone who was once like them, but found a way to improve his station in life.

The two men decide they will ask for Arkad’s advice on how they may also acquire great wealth, and as they leave, Bansir’s home, Kobbi says he believes they do not have wealth because they have not looked for it before.

Bansir is not seeking a hand out from their friend but wants to find out how Arkad improved his life. Also he does not decide to visit Arkad on his own but shares his thoughts with his other friends.

Bansir is posed to heed Arkad’s advice and increase his own wealth but he is not greedy and wants to help his friends even if he has no money to give them. So Bansir and Kobbi invite several other men to join them to share Arkad’s knowledge.

The Richest Man

In this chapter we are told that although Arkad spends liberally and is extremely generous, he has managed to amass a lot of wealth for himself, and that he did not start out as a wealthy man, but worked hard and saved his money.

The reason for his friends visit now is because although they keep working hard, they so far have not been able to save anything for themselves.

Arkad first gives his friends advice about believing too heavily in Fate and explains that Fate is indeed inconsistent and cannot be trusted, as even those who Fate is kind to are rarely truly happy since she takes away as fast as she gives.

Arkad then begins to tell his friends how he came to accrue his wealth. Although he was raised in a large family and his parents were poor, Arkad has never despaired about being wealthy, and he was always determined to improve himself and discover the secret to becoming wealthy.

When he was younger he had taken a good look around at all the things money could buy and decided he wanted these things for himself.

Algamish

Like Bansir, he recognizes that if he is to become wealthy he will have to talk to someone who is already wealthy, as he acknowledges that he cannot achieve wealth on his own. He also knows that he needs to study and be patient if he is to be successful.

After months of working really hard and very little to show for all his efforts, Arkad meets Algamish who and extremely wealthy a moneylender.

Arkad’s friendship with Algamish gives Arkad someone to advice him, to point out his mistakes and help him with difficult business decisions. Algamish asked Arkad to copy a particular law and agreed he would tell him the secret of his wealth, when it was completed.

Algamish reveals that the secret of his success is that a part of everything he earns is his to keep. Arkad does not immediately grasp the implication of this statement, so he is told that he should pay himself at least one-tenth of all his earnings before he pays any of his other debts.

In this way Arkad will be able to accumulate his own store of wealth. Arkad must also learn to be astute in investing his savings in order make them grow. Arkad passes this same advice on to his friends.

Cures for a Lean Purse

The next chapter explains how Babylon became the richest nation in the world and how after a lengthy time of prosperity Babylon was now suffering from an economic downturn. A few exclusive people have attained all the wealth, leaving most of the townspeople in poverty.

Arkad is summoned to the king’s palace to explain how this situation can be improved, and he is asked to teach others the wisdom of his financial success. His advice is simple to understand and does not cost anything. However Arkad is not promising a quick fix, as the listeners need to be resolute, as he provides them with a means to better their lives.

Arkad puts forth seven cures for a lean purse and asks the councilmen to talk about this amongst them selves to determine whether he is speaking the truth:

The first cure is the same advice Arkad gave his friends in the second chapter, to keep one tenth of all earnings for your self and learn to live of the remaining nine tenths.

The second cure involves devising a budget to cover all necessary expenditures. Arkad is quick to point out his definition of “necessary” purchases, as says that many people make up a good reason for buying something by calling it necessary, instead of acknowledging that they have bought it because they desire to do so.

Summarizing Arkad explains that in order to increase their wealth they first have to pay necessary bills, then use what is left over for the things they desire, but this should be no more than nine tenths of their income.

The third cure for a lean purse is that investments should be made to produce an additional income. Arkad’s way of doing this was to invest in bronze, which is used for shield making.

This worked by the shield maker borrowing money from him to buy his bronze, and then when he sold the shield he paid Arkad back what he had borrowed plus and additional amount as interest. In this way Arkad was able to slowly but steadily increase his savings.

The fourth cure is related to looking after the principal invested. Arkad advices the men to seek only the counsel of experienced investors, and to make sure they research the market, which they are considering investing in. They should be sure that the principal could be reclaimed, not lost and make certain sufficient interest will be paid at the end of this term.

The fifth cure is basic. Arkad advises that rather than pay out unreasonable sums to a landlord for an unsuitable abode, everyone should own their own home.

The sixth cure for a lean purse involves assuring the future of individual and his family. Here Arkad advices that since no one knows when they will die, provisions should be made to care for one’s family in anticipation of this event. By saving a percentage of funds in case of premature death will allow those left behind to continue a prosperous life.

The final cure requires a man to study so that he can earn even more. Arkad articulates that wishing for more wealth does not make a man wealthy, but learning a more skillful trade will increase his worth to the employer, and consequently increase his earnings.

When Arkad finishes his explanation of the seven cures for a lean purse he proposes that the gathering of men go out and put into practice these seven principles.

Goddess of Good Luck

This chapter begins with a Babylonian proverb and introduces the temple of learning, which is where Arkad holds his classes. At these classes a large number of men gather around this wise man and talk about various topics, such as in this case the Goddess of Good Luck, and ways to attract Good Luck to oneself.

On this occasion the men talk over the ways in which they have profited because they were lucky, but not one of them could name a time when luck had made them wealthier. The conversation then turns to a discussion of gambling, and the gaming tables.

Arkad advices that by the law of odds only the gamekeeper is guaranteed to make a sizeable income each night at the gaming tables, and Arkad challenges the men to bring to mind one well-known citizen who became wealthy by winning at the gaming tables.

The men are not able to name anyone including them selves, who have profited every time from the gaming tables. Arkad then advises that good luck cannot be found in these places and must be looked for elsewhere. Arkad also asks the men if they are not failing to see the gifts of the goddess when they lucratively conclude a business deal.

Missed Business Deals

One man recommends that they think about examples when a profitable deal was within their reach but for some reason was unsuccessful.

Arkad asks the man to share his story with the gathering, and the man, who is a trader, stands and tells of a missed business enterprise that his father recommended many years ago.

The man now has misgivings because he did not listen his father, and the venture proved profitable for those who did invest in the plan.

Another man stands up and tells his story about a missed business deal. After they have both finished speaking, a man from Syria stands up and remarks that he believes these men are procrastinators, and that is the reason why they failed to achieve a profitable deal when it was handed on a plate to them.

The men agree with him that the majority of opportunities they let pass by are because they hesitated. Arkad asks the merchant who initiated the topic of good luck, what he thinks.

The merchant speculates that good luck cannot be attracted to a man, but a man who makes the best of opportunities when they are presented to him, without hesitating is lucky. Arkad agrees with this assumption and adds that the goddess of good luck prefers men of action.

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Five Laws of Gold

This chapter seems to have two lessons, as the reader learns about wisdom, and also about the role of age and maturity in attaining great wealth.

Kalabab, an old man who is traveling around across the desert, chooses to tell his friends the story of Arkad’s son, Nomasir. This story is meant to demonstrate how difficult it is to know the difference between using wisdom when dealing with gold, and being overwhelmed by greed.

Kalabab is able to relate the story of Nomasir because he knows him personally, and once worked for a man who carried fine rugs to the home of Nomasir.

It is traditional in Babylon for sons who live with their parents to inherit their parent’s wealth. However Arkad did not believe in this custom and decided that his son should go out in the world and try to make his own fortune.

Arkad hoped that he would be able to teach his son to be wise and demonstrate how quickly gold can be lost if not

He gave his son a clay tablet that had the five laws of gold carved on it, a bag of gold and sent Nomasir out in the world to find his own way and learn how to manage his money wisely. He told his son to return in ten years and report how he had fared.

After ten years he returns and finds a great feast has been prepared in his honor. As he eats he talks of all that has happened to him since he left home:

Nomasir’s Story

Nomasir first traveled to Nineveh because he had heard that he could become wealthy there, but on the way he met several men who offered to include him on a business opportunity. Unwisely Nomasir agreed but ended up losing a large amount of his gold.

When he arrived in Nineveh he became involved in another business and lost most of the gold he had left. Once penniless with no hope of recuperating his loss, he decides to take out the clay tablet and read the five laws of gold.

At this point he decides to adhere firmly to the five laws and get back the gold he has lost and to increase his fortune.

He becomes wiser in his decision-making, and is able to repay the gold Arkad gave him plus two bags of gold more.

When Kalabab has finished telling the story of Nomasir, he discusses the five laws of gold and tells his companions that when they reach Babylon the next day, they will all have the chance to put the five laws into practice.

He then asks the men whether they think they will be able to give as good an account of him self after ten years as Nomasir gave to his father. Kalabab brings to a close by concluding that a man’s desires must be guided by wisdom if a man is going to achieve his desires.

The Gold Lender

This chapter resumes the idea about seeking advice when unsure of how to proceed with ones money, and explains the five laws mentioned in the last chapter, and how they can be put into practice. It is the story of the gold lender Mathon, and Rodan who is looking for the best investment for his gold.

Rodan’s dilemma shows how difficult it can be to decide what to do with ones earning, especially if this involves family, and this story indicates how to apply Arkad’s wisdom when investing.

The story begins as Rodan has been given fifty pieces of gold by the king for his splendid spears. As he walks away from the palace he is wondering what to do with his gold.

After several days, Rodan is still uncertain when his sister approaches him and asks for a loan so that her husband can start a business as a merchant. Rodan is unsure that this is the best investment for his money, so he decides to ask Mathon the gold lender what he should do.

When Mathon hears Rodan’s problem he tells him two stories in way of an answer:

The first is about a farmer who understands what his animals are saying to each other. He hears the ass telling the ox to pretend that he is sick so he will not have to work in the fields, which leads to the farmer putting the ass in the fields to work.

The moral according to Mathon is to help a friend only if you can do so without taking on his burden.

The second is a series of tales about the things Mathon keeps in his token chest. This is the chest where Mathon stores a token he receives from each borrower as token of good faith that the loan will be repaid.

He takes various objects from the chest and tells Rodan all about the owner of each object. Some individuals have only left a small token but repaid their debts on time, whereas others have left great tokens, but forfeited on their loan.

Although Rodan finds these tales interesting, he cannot see an answer to his problem in them. Mathon then questions him about his brother in law and discovers that Rodan does not think his brother in law knows very much about business.

Rodan is then asked how much gold he has saved in the last three years, to which he answers three gold pieces, one each year. Mathon tells Rodan to offer to lend the amount of gold he could save in one year, a single gold coin, to his sister and her husband.

By doing this Rodan will be no more out of pocket than what they may be able to pay back one day.

Mathon then advises Rodan to invest his money only on the guidance of wise and trustworthy merchants, and not to fritter it away on impulse, as if he acts with caution he will not live to regret his investments.

Walls of Babylon

This chapter begins at the time most of the Babylon is under attack by the Assyrians and the majority of the Babylonian army is away from the city fighting the Elamites in the East.

An older warrior, Banzar stand on the walls of the city watching the attackers below. As he watches several concerned people approach him and ask if he thinks the city wall will hold. He tells them all to stay safely hidden behind the strong city walls, as the walls have stood strong against invaders for more than three hundred years and they will not fail now.

Banzar kept his vigilant watch for three weeks and five days and continually reassured those who asked about the strength of the city walls. Finally the invaders retreated and the city was safe again.

Although it is the shortest chapter it carries a simple yet poignant message:

Be sure to look after and protect what you care about or you risk losing it. This is demonstrated in the way the Babylonians had invested in their walls so that they provided more than enough protection for their city; they were thick and impenetrably strong, which had kept out their numerous enemies for many years.

This is how to protect your savings and investments, as if you invest your money in a venture that is not secure, then you risk losing your money. But, by listening to the experts and making sure that a prospective investment will be completely protected, you can be convincingly reassured that your money will be safe from loss.

The Camel Trader

This chapter relates the story of Tarkad who has lost all his gold and doesn’t even have enough money to buy the most basic food for him self. He is also in debt to numerous people, and has no means to repay these debts.

One day as he is wandering the streets around the market begging for food he meets Dabasir who is one of his creditors. Dabasir’s asks him to go to a local tavern with him to discuss how the debts will be repaid.

Dabasir relates his own story about his rise from slavery as he tucks into a whole goat leg, whilst Tarkad sits hungrily listening.

Dabasir’s Story

When he was a young man he married a beautiful woman and tried to keep her provided with all the things she wanted. This he managed for a while and he was able to keep his debts to a minimum. However his wife started to ask for finer and finer things, and he started to borrow money from people so that he could afford to do this, and soon he is penniless.

His wife leaves him and returns home to her father, and Dabasir gets in with a band of thieves. This gang is eventually caught and a Syrian chief makes Dabasir a slave and the chief’s wife, Sira makes him her personal camel herder.

On one occasion as Dabasir is leading her camel across the desert, Sira asks him if he has the heart of a slave of a freeman. His reply was that he was born a freeman but regrettable circumstances have turned him into a slave.

Talking together they realize that they have a lot in common, as they both find them selves stuck in situations that they did not chose.

Sira advises that if he really desires and if he truly has the heart of a freeman that he can alter his station in life, and she helps him to escape slavery by giving him a camel and a false story for him while on a trip across the desert.

Dabasir is determined that he will return to Babylon, repay his debts, and get back the love of his wife.

Although Dabasir is hungry and thirsty, he pushes himself on through the desert and eventually reaches Babylon, where he seeks the advice of Mathon.

Mathon advises him to take work in a business in which he is clued-up on, and he manages to gain employment with a camel trader. From that point on starts to build his own business and In time and with a good deal of determination Dabasir is able to repay all his debts and his wife returns to him.

Tarkad

As Tarkad listened attentively to Dabasir’s story he vowed to stop wallowing in self-pity and instead to find a way to repay his debts. Dabasir hails the tavern owner and asks him to bring food to Tarkad, then the two finish their meal together.

This has much relevance for us today, as many borrow to much, pay more on their homes than they can afford, and full behind with their payments, and like Dabasir we all have to decide whether to continue living as slaves to our debts, or find freedom by working to repay our debts.

The Clay Tablets

In chapter five there is a reference made at the beginning to a letter received by Professor Franklin Caldwell from Alfred Shrewsbury, who has just finished translating some clay tablets that the professor sent him. These five tablets were written by the camel trader, Dabasir, from the previous chapter and they detail how he managed to pay of his debts, and win back his wife after he escaped from the Syrian chief.

Tablet one outlines a three-fold plan to pay off his debts:

  • Dabasir determines to put aside one-tenth of his earnings as savings.
  • He decides that he will use seven-tenths of his earning to provide for his wife and himself.
  • The remaining two-tenths will be divided equally among his debtors each month.

The second tablet has the names of the people who Dabasir owes money to, and how much he owes each of them.

Tablet three recounts how Dabasir visited each of his creditors and laid forth his plan. Three men grumbled because they were not willing to accept his terms, but as they had no choice, they did.

The fourth tablet tell how well Dabasir implemented his plan, after three months he had saved twenty one gold pieces, and he had paid his creditors from two tenths of his earnings each month. His wife came back to him and is keeping house in moderate comfort.

The fifth tablet is written a year after the fourth, on the day that he has finally paid off all his debts. When he makes this last payment the three disgruntled creditors compliment Dabasir on his excellent plan and determination.

The chapter ends with Shrewsbury writing a letter to Caldwell updating him on how well he himself had implemented Dabasir’s plan. After a year of cutting back on their expenditures, Shrewsbury and his wife had saved a tidy sum and invested it. The investment will give them enough income to live on until he retires, and they have also managed to reduce a substantial proportion of their debt, and expect to have it all paid of in another year. Therefore demonstrating that these ancient principles can be effectual in our lives today.

The Luckiest Man

This chapter is the longest in the book and tells the story of Sharru Nada. Although long and involved it teaches a simple lesson that hard work brings great reward.

As Sharru Nada leads a caravan across the desert, the grandson of his former partner is riding close behind. He looks at the boy and thinks that he is nothing like his grandfather.

This concerns him and he worries about his fate, as this young man, Hadan Gula desires only money and does not value hard work. As he sees three farmer working in a field who he recognizes, Sharru decides to tell Hadan the story of how Arad Gula, his grandfather became partners with him.

Sharru Nada’s Story

Many years ago he had passed by the same field with the same farmers in it, and the man chained next to him at the time, Megiddo scoffed at the way they farmers were plowing, saying that they were lazy.

Two other men were also chained to the column; one was called Zabado, a sheep thief, the other is called Pirate and he has a tattoo like a sailor would have.

These men are slaves and are on their way to Babylon to be sold. Megiddo warns the others that they should work hard for their new masters, as this is the only way to avoid being beaten to death, but Zabado and Pirate laugh at this suggestion. However Sharru Nada heeds Megiddo’s words.

The following morning the men are taken to the city where they are offered for sale to the merchants. Pirate and Zabado sell quickly, and a farmer he has struck up a conversation with buys Megiddo, but it is not until the end of the day that a baker buys Sharru Nada as a slave.

The baker takes Sharru Nada to his shop and he works hard to learn the bakers trade, and eventually strikes a bargain with the baker to bake extra honey cakes so that they can sell them on the streets, and split the profits.

One day as he is pushing his cart through the streets, he comes across Arad Gula who is a rug merchants slave. Arad is impressed with Sharru’s business savvy and the two become friends.

Hard Labor

After some time Sharru is sold by the baker to pay off a debt he owes, and Sharru has to work building the Grand Canal. He finds this hard labor in the sun makes him weak and whilst he is considering his position, he thinks about Zabado and Pirate.

Zabado works constructing the city walls and his master beats him daily, and Pirate killed his master and was flogged and hung.

Then his mind wanders to Megiddo who has callused hands due to his hard work, but he is happy in himself because he gives all he can to his work.

A messenger requests that Sharru should be sent back to the baker, this he learns is because Arad Gula worked hard enough to buy the freedom of both of them, and they become partners.

Hadan Gula

Hadan Gula has listened to this tale in utter disbelief because he is unwilling at first to believe that his grandfather was once a slave. However as he listens he comes to understand the lesson his grandfather is teaching him, and that he also must pay what he owes and work if he is going to become wealthy like his grandfather.

The young man takes off his jewelry and slows down so that he rides behind Sharru Nada, as a sign of respect.

An Historical Sketch of Babylon

This final chapter gives us the history of ancient Babylon. For all its riches one would deduce that the city was to be found in a tropical climate with rich natural resources.

However, Babylon was to be found on the banks of Euphrates River in a dry, flat valley and the ancient Babylonians are known for making the vast irrigation canals that watered and nourished their fertile soils.

Historians are fortunate that the Babylonians left comprehensive details of their existence etched into clay tablets, and libraries of thousands of tablets have be found by archeologists allowing scientists to piece together the history of this great ancient civilization.

Queen Semiramis is ascribed as building the first walls around the city, while Nebuchadnezzar completed later walls. The size of the walls is hard to believe, as some were thick enough for a six-horse chariot to be driven around with room to spare, and as tall as a modern day fifteen-story building.

The Babylonians were extremely skilled and they used metal spearheads whereas most in that day and age used stone-headed spears and axes. This book demonstrates that they were skilled financiers, yet their great and wonderful history was cut short by a strange set of circumstances:

King Cyrus marched on Babylon and was met by King Nabonidus, but the soldiers inside the city forgot to shut the gates, so when Cyrus defeated Nabonidus, he was then able to march his army through the open gates.

Despite all the accomplishments and wealth of the Babylonians, they were abruptly cut out of history. Just one silly error of judgment, one fatal mistake by King Nabonidus cost the whole nation their existence.

This mistake exemplifies that even when you have achieved all that you can, have every thing you desire and kept it for a long time, you still need to take precautions, and not overlook even the smallest detail, or you put yourself at risk of losing everything.

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