178: The Complete Book of Greed by M. Hirsch Goldberg

by Gerard


DDC_178178: Goldberg, M. Hirsch. The Complete Book of Greed: The Strange and Amazing History of Human Excess. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1994. 236 pp. ISBN 0-6881-0614-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and psychology
  • 170: Ethics
  • 178: Ethics of consumption

It seems like greed is an undeniable quality of being human. Many of us can temper greed with other moral niceties, but the talented few let their greed run unabated. Many Americans can probably rattle off a dozen noted millionaires and billionaires before they can name the presidents (although, sometimes, they are the same people). The Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Gateses of the world are known by their wealth, business acumen, and sometimes their philanthropy. M. Hirsch Goldberg’s The Complete Book of Greed is a whimsical look at the history of human monetary greediness and how it has shaped—and been shaped by—history.

Goldberg catalogs the lives of all the famous (and infamous) rich people in history. We get Leona Helmsley, Imelda Marcos, Adnan Khashoggi, Lee Iacocca, Mrs. Astor, Donald Trump, and even Warren Buffett. The book is a bit dated, so we don’t get to hear about the modern Silicon Valley millionaires or outlandish sports figures, but the history is still interesting. There are bits on the history of money and spending, how spending culture has grown over the last century, and the lengths that people have gone in order to acquire more money for themselves.

There are times while reading this book that the reader is left to think that rich are made to be mocked. From their purchases of $100 million derelict yachts, thousands upon thousands of shoes, and entire islands, we get to pass judgment on them because they have chosen to set themselves so far apart from the rest of their fellow people. While Goldberg does manage to bring together a sizable compendium of stories concerning the very rich, we only ever get one perspective. Indeed, there are those whose sizable gains were ill-gotten and those who parlayed shady business deals into wealth, but many of the planet’s rich men and women inherited their money (no real fault there) or earned it. Goldberg tries repeatedly to burden the reader with outlandish tales to bolster a rather simple premise, but the truth is rarely that simple. This book does make one think, though, about the nature of greed and how we approach the “problem” of having too much money. It wasn’t my favorite, but it did look at philosophy from a completely different angle. For that, it might be worth a few bucks.