Book review: How To Get Rich, by Felix Dennis

Business & entrepreneurship, Personal finance

Are you looking for a practical how-to, what’s-it-like guide to becoming a rich entrepreneur, written by an expert and eccentric? If so, Felix Dennis’s How To Get Rich is probably for you.

I discovered his book through and decided to give it a try. Though I really liked his writing style — direct, bold, and funny in a self-effacing way– truth be told, with a title like “How To Get Rich”, I lowered my expectations a bit in case it turned out to be the usual drivel you usually find in the Business Profiles section of a bookstore. You know, the 18-point font, double-spaced, full-of-motivating-platitudes stuff that you get when flipping through Trump and Kiyosaki or worse. Those books have their use, but in general, once you’ve read one, the next one isn’t going to be much different. (Actually, Dennis has some pretty harsh words for all the authors out there who write how-to-get-rich books without actually having done so, except by selling copies of their how-to books!)

Enter Felix Dennis, a British publishing mogul who loves writing poems, outstanding wines, and telling it like it is. If you’ve never heard of him, he started Dennis Publishing in 1974, hit it big by publishing magazines related to the PC revolution back when no one else thought it would last, and nowadays publishes some of the most successful men’s lifestyle magzines in the US, like Maxim, Stuff, and Blender. By his own estimation, he’s worth about $400-$900M before tax.

Dennis emphasizes in his book that it’s a definitive how-to guide to being rich, and he regularly repeats, more than half-seriously, that if you’re not using his book to get rich, then you’re wasting your time and might as well give it to someone who will use it properly. Though I have no foot to stand on, I disagree wholeheartedly. You’re going to get good advice from this book regardless of whether you’re aiming to become rich, want to run your own simple business, or even if you work for someone else.

Sure, for those who are looking to get filthy rich, Dennis’s advice is probably spot-on. (“Probably” because I can’t speak from experience here.) In a nutshell: choose a good industry (he gives some guidelines on what to avoid), mix in some luck (he gives advice on how to improve your chances of catching Lady Luck), and, finally, the most important part, retain 100% ownership of it through thick and thin (much easier said than done). Dennis truly believes that getting rich really isn’t hard, and anyone can do it, as long as they’re willing to make the sacrifices that are required to get there. On this point, I like that Dennis handles being rich even handedly (something you won’t find with Trump or Kiyosaki). He says outright that being rich won’t make anyone happier and is in fact more likely to lead to distress and loneliness, because getting there and maintaining wealth always requires personal sacrifices that most people aren’t willing to make, and for good reason.

So what is it I like so much about this book, given I’m not one of his target audience members?

I suppose the reason I enjoy this book so much and will read it over and over again is that you seldom have the opportunity to hear someone’s philosophy and conclusions about living life, let alone someone who has probably done things you’ll never get to do (but might like to). I like that Dennis gives examples of his thought processes, and I don’t mean only on his successful ventures. More often than not, he gives examples of how he missed opportunities and made errors. He talks about what he’d do differently if he had the chance to start over. He gives some advice on managing talent (what he considers the important asset in a business) even though he also says that entrepreneurs shouldn’t be focusing on managing people.

I still have aspirations of being an entrepreneur and will certainly find his advice handy when I get there, but even if being an entrepreneur isn’t one of your goals, this book will still give you perspectives that you’ll seldom hear from other people in your life.

About the only downside, by the way, is that this book isn’t easily available in the US. I ended up getting my copy used from Strand Books (unfortunately, it’s not listed there anymore), and mine came with a dedication from Dennis himself on the front page that reads “To David — with a large pinch of salt! Felix Dennis 2006”!

Contents of How To Be Rich:

Part I: Reasons Not To Get Rich
1. Pole Positions
2. A Million to One

Part II: Getting Started
3. Harnessing the Fear of Failure
4. The Search
5. The Fallacy of the Great Idea
6. Obtaining Capital
7. Never Give In
8. The Five Most Common Start-up Errors

Part III: Getting Rich
9. Cardinal Virtues
10. A Few Words About Luck
11. The Art of Negotiating
12. Ownership! Ownership! Ownership!
13. The Joys of Delegation
14. A Piece of the Pie
15. The Power of Focus

Part IV: Troubleshooting & Endgame
16. Whoops!
17. A Recap for Idlers
18. How to Stay Rich
19. The Eight Secrets to Getting Rich
20. Remember to Duck!


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