Two years ago I wrote a rave review of 50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon. Its concept was simple: Butler-Bowdon selected fifty important books from success literature. He summarized each in only a few pages, distilling its key points. He also provided biographical information on the authors, and attempted to explain why each book was relevant in a Big Picture sort of way.

Over the past few years, Butler-Bowdon has written several similar books:

50 Self-Help Classics 50 Success Classics 50 Spiritual Classics 50 Psychology Classics 50 Prosperity Classics

A Proven Formula
The entries in the “50 Classics” series follow a proven formula. Each chapter is devoted to a single book, and begins with a couple of short excerpts that capture the essence of the work. For example, in his summary of The Millionaire Next Door, Butler-Bowdon shares this quote:

What have we discovered in all our research? Mainly, that building wealth takes discipline, sacrifice, and hard work.

In addition to a three-to-five page commentary on each book, Butler-Bowdon provides one sentence summaries. For example, here’s The Millionaire Next Door “in a nutshell”:

Most people become millionaires not by inheritance or winning the lottery, but earning a good income from work they enjoy, living well below their means, and investing their savings.

Each chapter also provides biographical information on each author and a list of related works. (Here’s a chapter describing a biography of Warren Buffett from 50 Success Classics.) After all fifty book summaries, Butler-Bowdon shares a list of recurring themes he gleaned from his reading, as well as a list of fifty additional books on the subject.

Butler-Bowdon has a talent for extracting the key content from even the most difficult books, and making the information accessible to general readers. When you read one of his books, you’re immersed in a subject — you feel as if you really begin to understand it. He also does an excellent job of extracting meat from books that haven’t much to offer.

Because there’s no overall narrative thread in Butler-Bowdon’s books, the chapters can be read in any order. Or they can be skipped entirely. The books in the “50 Classics” series are excellent when read start-to-finish, but they also make good reading while on the bus or just before bed.

50 Prosperity Classics
The latest in the series is 50 Prosperity Classics. Butler-Bowdon provides commentaries on familiar titles such as:

  • Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin
  • The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
  • The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley & William Danko
  • The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
  • The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump

But the focus here isn’t just on accumulating money. Though many of these books are about wealth, Butler-Bowdon is more concerned with the broader notion of prosperity. He writes:

Whereas wealth is simply the possession of money or assets, or the process of getting more and keeping more for ourselves, prosperity is the state of “flourishing, thriving, or succeeding.” In short, wealth is about money but prosperity is about life, taking in the wider ideas of good fortune, abundance, and wellbeing.

Butler-Bowdon believes there are four primary ways in which we relate to wealth. He’s divided the fifty prosperity classics into these categories:

  • Attract it — “Mastering the inner game of wealth and abundance.” Twelve titles including The Secret (my review), Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, and Secrets of the Millionaire Mind (my review).
  • Create it — “Secrets of the wealth creator.” Eighteen titles including biographies of Bill Gates, Conrad Hilton, Donald Trump, and Richard Branson.
  • Manage it — “Strategies of personal finance and investing.” Thirteen familiar titles from authors like Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki, and John Bogle.
  • Share it — “The flow of wealth and giving something back.” Six books including Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor (my review).

There are no details about investment strategies here. Nor will you find a discussion of asset allocation or tips on frugality. Instead, the author explores large concepts, exploring the inner game and the outer game of wealth. For example, the commentary on John Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing leaves out the numbers and charts found in the actual book, and instead offers the broader conclusion — invest in index funds — in a way that makes sense to the average reader.

Prosperity and Success
50 Prosperity Classics follows the same formula as the previous volumes in the series, and in that respect it succeeds admirably. To be honest, this is a book I would love to have written. From its 300 pages, an active reader can draw a lifetime of financial skills. Still, there are some chapters that aren’t much use to me. I’m not much interested in the notion of “attracting” prosperity, and would rather have read commentaries on other titles. The beauty of this book’s format, however, is that it’s easy to skip a summary that doesn’t interest me and move on to the next.

If you’ve been wanting to explore books about prosperity, but don’t known where to begin, 50 Prosperity Classics is an excellent choice. By reading this book you’ll not only gain an overview of the genre’s big ideas, but you’ll also be able to pick titles that interest you for further reading. If I had to recommend one title from this series, however, it’d be 50 Success Classics. That’s a book I can read again and again and again.

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