Carnegie, Rockefeller, Edison: How they succeeded

Hear from America's first generation of millionaires how they succeeded.

Nabu Press
Orison Swett Marden wrote 'How they succeeded: life stories of successful men told by themselves' in 1901. Now that it is out of copyright, several publishers are reissuing this classic text, with list prices from $0.00 (as an e-book) to $48.95. This version, published by Nabu Press, sells for about $30 and is 372 pages long.

There is a beautiful romance in this book, a romance with achievement in an age when achievement was valued. It can happen again, and a good first step is to study the lives and values of the greats of the last century to learn how and why.

The Gilded Age produced not only some of the richest men and women of all time; its freedom and opportunities built a nation of people of superlative character. This fantastic book from 1901 provides an in-depth look at the lives and choices of some of the most famous among them. The idea is to document the traits that make for great entrepreneurs.

Here it is presented with beautiful personal profiles. From the interviews and reporting, certain common features of success emerge: the need for a work ethic, the necessity of sacrifice, the role of being alert, the centrality of passion to success, the urge to serve others, the desire to break the mold, the willingness to adapt to change, profound attentiveness to real conditions, and also the biographical details of how a person goes from rags to riches.

These stories come out of an age of free enterprise. The American population was very anxious not to demonize the “men of wealth” but to celebrate and emulate them. There was a popular magazine called SUCCESS that was expertly edited. It ran a long series of interviews and profiles. This great book collects the best of them in a single volume. Most of these people have been forgotten, though their examples were once held up for generations of school kids.

Capitalistic success is heralded in these pages. But it’s not only about money. It’s about success in every field, so poets, dancers, composers, philanthropists, and journalists are in here. But the common thread here is entrepreneurship, which is that special capacity for acting on good judgments about an uncertain future. This quality is the driving force of the market and civilization.

Some of the names that were once known by everyone but are tragically forgotten today, all beautifully profiled here: Marshall Field, Alexander Bell, Helen Gould, Philip Armour, Mary Proctor, Jacob Could Schurman, John Wanamaker, Darius Ogden Mills, William Dean Howells, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, John Burroughs, James Whitcomb Riley and many others.

You will find out more about these people through these bite-size reports by top-flight journalists than from full biographies. You get to hear their own words about how they evaluate their success. It’s a great book for kids too, offering unforgettable life stories and lessons.

Because it was first published in 1901, a time when individual character truly mattered for success, there are ways in which this book is old fashioned but in the best possible sense: there is an extolling of the bourgeois virtues here, many of which seem to be lost today. In this way, this book is not only educational; it is deeply inspirational.

Add/view comments on this post.


The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link above.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.