Great Books Distilled: Books by History's Greatest Innovators, Founders, and Investors

The page is a reading list sharing the best books written by history's greatest innovators, founders, and investors. You’ll find more than 100 good books to read, organized by category. This is a reading list for people who don’t have time for unimportant books — which should be everyone. I only list the best books I've read and recommend. So you can be sure that each will be worth your time.

Great Books by Category

These are the best books to read, listed by category. Along with a few collections of rare and hard-to-find speeches, lectures, talks, interviews, letters, and memos that are a great way to go deeper.

All Book Summaries

For the best books that I read, I go through the painstaking effort to put together and publish my personal notes including highlights, excerpts, and takeaways. You get the best 5% of the ideas in these books in a form that takes 20 minutes at most to read.

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Daniel Scrivner

Poor Richard's Almanack: Benjamin Franklin's Incredibly Popular Book of Aphorisms, Forecasts, and More

Book Summary

This is my book summary of Poor Richard's Almanack by Benjamin Franklin. My notes are informal and often contain quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts. This summary also includes key lessons and important passages from the book.


Overview

From 1733 to 1758, Benjamin Franklin used the pseudonym of "Poor Richard" to publish Poor Richard's Almanack. Franklin's Almanack was hugely popular in the American colonies, selling about 10,000 copies per year. Their content varied, including not only many Franklin aphorisms that became famous but also calendars, weather forecasts, astronomical information, and astrological data.

Benjamin Franklin was a polymath. Born in Boston and a leader of the American Revolution, he was a journalist, publisher, author, philanthropist, abolitionist, public servant, scientist, diplomat, and inventor. Despite all of his success, Franklin's preferred name and title throughout his life was simply B. Franklin, Printer.

The linked edition of Poor Richard's Almanack is a faithful reproduction of the original Peter Pauper Press edition, circa 1950. It contains the same colorful woodcuts and 18th century design of the original.


The Book in Three Sentences

From 1733 to 1758, Benjamin Franklin used the pseudonym of "Poor Richard" to publish Poor Richard's Almanack. Franklin's Almanack was hugely popular in the American colonies, selling about 10,000 copies per year. Their content varied, including not only many Franklin aphorisms that became famous but also calendars, weather forecasts, astronomical information, and astrological data.


Introduction from Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

In Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, he shared the follow observation about Poor Richard's Almanack in the introduction — covering both his goals as well as its success and impact:

In 1732 I first published my Almanack, under the name of Poor Richard Saunders. I endeavored to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand, that I reaped considerable profit from it, vending annually near ten thousand. And observing that it was generally read, scarce any neighborhood in the province being without it, I considered it as a proper vehicle from conveying instruction among the common people, who bought scarcely any other books. I therefore filled the little spaces that occurred between the days in the calendar with proverbial sentences, chiefly such a inculcated industry and frugality, as the means of procuring wealth, and thereby securing virtue; it being more difficult for a man in want to act always honestly, as, to use here one of those proverbs, it is hard for an empty sack to stand up-right.

These proverbs, which contained the wisdom of many ages and nations, I assembled and formed into a connected discourse prefixed to the Almanack of 1757, as the harangue of a wise old man to the people attending an auction. The piece, being universally approved, was copied in all the newspapers of the Continent; reprinted in Britain on a broadside to be hung up in houses; two translations were made of it in French, and great numbers bought by the clergy and gentry, to distribute gratis among their poor parishioners and tenants. In Pennsylvania, as it discouraged useless expense in foreign superfluities, some thought it had its share of influence in producing that growing plenty of money which was observable for several years after its publication.

Benjamin Franklin's Maxims and Aphorisms

Poor Richard's maxims ranged widely in topic and were typically laced with humor. A few favorites:

“Today is Yesterday's Pupil”

“Drive thy business, or it will drive thee.”

“He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.”

“Where there's Marriage without Love, there will be Love without Marriage.”

“Necessity never made a good bargain.”

“Three may key a secret, if two of them are dead.”

“There is no little enemy.”

“It's difficult for an empty sack to stand upright.”

“Who is strong? He that can conquer his bad Habits.”

“Well done is better than well said.”

“If Passion drives, let Reason hold the Reigns.”

“Beware of little expenses: a small leak will sink a great ship.”

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

“Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.”

“To err is human, to repent divine; the persist devilish.”

“Laziness trots so slowly that poverty soon overtakes him.”

“Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.”

“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”

“Speak little, do much.”

“Fish and Visitors stink in 3 days.”

“Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”

“No nation was ever ruined by trade.”

“Wise Men learn by other's harms; Fools by their own.”

“Great Modesty often hides great Merit.”

“If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason.”

“What you would seem to be, be really.”

“Fools multiply folly.”

“We may give Advice, but we cannot give Conduct.”

“The Use of Money is all the Advantage there is in having Money.”

“The Golden Age was never the present Age.”

“Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.”

“Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure when he is really selling himself a slave to it.”

“Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.”

For more, I highly encourage you to order Poor Richard's Almanack and read the entire book yourself.

Recommended Reading

If you enjoyed Poor Richard's Almanack, you might also like:

Related Collections

You can find other books like Poor Richard's Almanack in these collections:


About the author

Daniel Scrivner is an award-winner designer turned founder and investor. He's led design work at Apple and Square. He is an early investor in Notion, Public.com, and Good Eggs. He's also the founder of Ligature: The Design VC and Outlier Academy. Daniel has interviewed the world’s leading founders and investors including Scott Belsky, Luke Gromen, Kevin Kelly, Gokul Rajaram, and Brian Scudamore.

Last updated
Dec 10, 2023

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