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Reviewed by Sarah Ell

Sceptre, NZ$24.99

As this edition of JUNO has shown, wealth means different things to different people. But vast, extreme wealth – billions of dollars, rather than mere millions – is something reserved for a tiny fraction of the population. Would you like to be among them?

In this book, British economic forecaster Sam Wilkin lifts the lid on how the super-rich have become that way, right from the earliest days of capitalism. 

The Romans were the first to have citizens among them who amassed great wealth, and weren’t afraid to splash it around on feasting and debauchery. The American ‘robber barons’ of the late 1800s and early 1900s – think big names like JP Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt – also built fortunes unimaginable to the hoi polloi. Then in the late 20th century, a new wave of the super-rich came along, many of them buoyed by the dotcom boom.

Wilkin analyses how the incredibly wealthy in each of these eras came by their piles of money, and has discovered some common themes. Unfortunately, if you are hoping to join the ranks of the 1 per cent who currently control more than half the world’s wealth, you might have to be either lucky or unscrupulous – you are unlikely to get there by working hard, playing fair and operating above the law, unless you are also a very clever person like Bill Gates. 

Wilkin’s book presents case studies of some of the richest people who have ever lived, and presents ‘seven secrets of spectacularly rich people’ – the common factors that have helped to set them apart from the rest of us. Us mere mortals are never likely to reach such heights, but there are still lessons to be learned from these stories. As Wilkins says, “if getting filthy rich was easy, anyone could do it.”