- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
ForbesDespite a new book promoting Mark Twain as your ideal investment mentor, he was just another highly intelligent writer who became transformed into an idiot when he was managing money.
There are exceptions, but not many: Literary figures screw up when it comes to handling money. Honore de Balzac found time to produce more than 100 novels but also time to blow his huge earnings on gambling, insanely wild extravagances and worthless Sardinian silver mines-and spent many moons hiding from his creditors. Both Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy also had gambling problems and, until Tolstoy hit it big with War and Peace and Anna Karenina, he was paying for his roulette losses by selling off chunks of the land he had inherited. During his peak years as a writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in a basically tax-free world and averaged about $165,000 a year in today's dollars, but was chronically unable to get through the month without borrowing from his literary agent or, on occasion, his mother. A secretary charged with putting Scott and his wife on a budget said despairingly, "Their idea of economy was to cut the laundress' wage." Tom Clancy blew a fast $2 million after taking a liking to a plausible-seeming swindler he had just met in a box seat at a Baltimore Orioles game. Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley inherited wealth, which he rapidly dissipated by lending money to his deadbeat bohemian friends.
I had always reckoned Mark Twain to be among the leading literary screwup artists when it came to money, and was therefore startled by the recent publication of a book by Andrew Leckey claiming the opposite to be true: The Lack of Money Is the Root of All Evil: Mark Twain's Timeless Wisdomon Money, Wealth, and Investing (Prentice Hall Press, $22). This book will definitely not make you rich. And if you are even slightly acquainted with Twain's un-ending follies in the presence of money, you will find much to hoot at in the book.
Samuel Clemens was money hungry. Negotiating with a publisher, he mentioned that money "has a degree of importance for me which is almost beyond my own comprehension." But he was also invincibly naive about money, and in his autobiography he ruefully quotes Henry Ward Beecher as telling him: "You are one of the talented men of the age, but in matters of business I don't suppose you know more than enough to come in when it rains." He turned down an opportunity to invest $500 in a new invention called the telephone, but over a span of 15 years poured several hun-dred thousand dollars into a typesetting machine whose smooth-talking "inventor" was forever on the verge of getting the thing to work. Unlike the Mergenthaler Linotype, it never did.
Clemens also took a swing at book publishing, and his acumen might be gauged by his heavy reliance on a book about Pope Leo XIII, which, he honestly believed, would have to be bought "by every Catholic in Christendom." Partly because most Catholics declined this deal, partly because publishing money got diverted to the troubled typeset-ting machine and partly because his bookkeeper was a crook, the publishing firm ended up in bankruptcy. He also in-vested $25,000 in Plasmon, a dietary supplement said to have incredible health-giving properties, but gave up on this proposition when the company was taken over by characters he judged "rascals." Clemens had huge profits in some mining stocks but lost them all, plus his original investment, when hit by margin calls that he couldn't meet. His finan-cial affairs were stabilized only after a fan of his books, who also happened to be a senior Standard Oil executive, came along and took charge of his investing.vSo how can Leckey justify that subtitle? Partly by finding passages in Twain's novels that have some dim relation-ship to investing, but mainly by citing the lessons learned by the author from his assorted financial debacles. Which, even by the standards of today's publishing hype, would seem to stretch the meaning of "timeless wisdom."