58. Brazillionaires

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Brazillionaires: The Godfathers of Modern Brazil

I can’t remember how this book came up on my radar, but it was on my wish list for months and months and months.  Then, because it never dipped below £2 for the Kindle version, and I didn’t really want to read it that badly, I took it off of my wish list.  

Then, one day, on a long run, I stopped at a few of the thrift stores in Portobello, just on the outskirts of Edinburgh, by the sea.  The main street has a stretch of incredible shops, and one was advertising all books, two for 99p.  I walked in and was faced with a wall of book spines, and Brazillionaires seemed to almost levitate towards me – a big title, and at first I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t have any cash on me, but I chose this and Lean In, and asked if I could pay with contactless.

“I’m on a long run,” I explained.

“Well!  I’ve never heard of anyone on a run buying books!” said the woman behind the till.

So I ran three miles back with these two books, sometimes one in each hand, sometimes two in one hand.  They were just the wrong size to carry while running.  Something about their thickness meant that I couldn’t get a good, satisfying grip on them; they slipped, and my wrists and forearms started hurting.  It was easier to hold both of them in one hand, actually, but then I got nervous that I was going to develop stronger muscles in one arm, or throw my balance off, or that somehow I’d subtly overcompensate and it would damage the tendons in my knees and ankles.  After a long run, you can start to imagine all sorts of things happening.

That was on August 25.  I had six hundred other books on my reading list, and I was already in the middle of two other books, but I read the first page of Brazillionaires, then the second chapter, then the fifth, and finished it on September 1.  It’s the story of money in Brazil, I suppose, but as a reader, I was left with the indelible impression that most fortunes around the world were made in similar manners – family connections, family support, investment, government interest, and a lot of luck.  It was informative to read about so many of the people in the news in Brazil right now, and to think that the fortunes being made elsewhere…well, could be made here, too.

In looking back through the book, one paragraph stood out, because I’d circled it and dog-eared the page:

I thought about the line that divided the people I covered at Bloomberg from the rest of the world’s rich: one billion dollars.  It’s an arbitrary line, but in the end it makes sense, because to get there, unless you inherit it, you need something special, perhaps genetic, not just wit and hard work and luck but a drive for accumulation that’s as much instinct as addiction.  There’s a reason we refer to their businesses as empires.  I started reading about the original tycoons from my own country too.  When J. Pierpont Morgan died in 1913, the Economist called him the “Napoleon of Wall Street.”  Billionaires are after conquest.  They want to leave a mark on the world.

Result: recommended.  Highly.  Particularly if you, like me, are ambitious and are looking for tips.

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