Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by John Graham

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Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by John Graham

The Book in Three Sentences

This book is a series of letters written by a successful entrepreneur, John Graham, to his son offering various pieces of advice throughout the boy’s college years and early career. For example, 1) It isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts. 2) Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible. 3) A good wife doubles a man’s expenses and doubles his happiness, and that’s a pretty good investment if a fellow’s got the money to invest. And many other insights.

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son summary

This is my book summary of Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by John Graham. My notes are informal and often contain quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts. This summary includes key lessons and important passages from the book.

  • You’ll find that education’s about the only thing lying around loose in this world, and that it’s about the only thing a fellow can have as much of as he’s willing to haul away.
  • Some men learn the value of money by not having any and starting out to pry a few dollars loose from the odd millions that are lying around; and some learn it by having fifty thousand or so left to them and starting out to spend it as if it were fifty thousand a year. Some men learn the value of truth by having to do business with liars; and some by going to Sunday School. Some men learn the cussedness of whiskey by having a drunken father; and some by having a good mother. Some men get an education from other men and newspapers and public libraries; and some get it from professors and parchments—it doesn’t make any special difference how you get a half-nelson on the right thing, just so you get it and freeze on to it.
  • The first thing that any education ought to give a man is character, and the second thing is education.
  • I know a young fellow with the right sort of stuff in him preaches to himself harder than any one else can, and that he’s mighty often switched off the right path by having it pointed out to him in the wrong way.
  • I’m anxious that you should be a good scholar, but I’m more anxious that you should be a good clean man.
  • Education’s a good deal like eating—a fellow can’t always tell which particular thing did him good, but he can usually tell which one did him harm.
  • College doesn’t make fools; it develops them. It doesn’t make bright men; it develops them. A fool will turn out a fool, whether he goes to college or not, though he’ll probably turn out a different sort of a fool.
  • It isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts.
  • The sooner you adjust your spending to what your earning capacity will be, the easier they will find it to live together.
  • I can’t hand out any ready-made success to you. It would do you no good, and it would do the house harm. There is plenty of room at the top here, but there is no elevator in the building.
  • Pay day is always a month off for the spend-thrift, and he is never able to realize more than sixty cents on any dollar that comes to him. But a dollar is worth one hundred and six cents to a good business man, and he never spends the dollar. It’s the man who keeps saving up and expenses down that buys an interest in the concern.
  • The boy who does anything just because the other fellows do it is apt to scratch a poor man’s back all his life.
  • Some men learn all they know from books; others from life; both kinds are narrow.
  • Some men learn all they know from books; others from life; both kinds are narrow. The first are all theory; the second are all practice.
  • I wanted you to form good mental habits, just as I want you to have clean, straight physical ones.
  • It’s not what a man does during working-hours, but after them, that breaks down his health.
  • A clear mind is one that is swept clean of business at six o’clock every night and isn’t opened up for it again until after the shutters are taken down next morning.
  • Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible.
  • Habits rule a man’s life.
  • On travel: Seeing the world is like charity—it covers a multitude of sins, and, like charity, it ought to begin at home.
  • Have something to say. Say it. Stop talking.
  • It’s all right when you are calling on a girl or talking with friends after dinner to run a conversation like a Sunday-school excursion, with stops to pick flowers; but in the office your sentences should be the shortest distance possible between periods.
  • It’s easier to look wise than to talk wisdom. Say less than the other fellow and listen more than you talk; for when a man’s listening he isn’t telling on himself and he’s flattering the fellow who is.
  • You’ll read a good deal about “love at first sight” in novels, and there may be something in it for all I know; but I’m dead certain there’s no such thing as love at first sight in business. A man’s got to keep company a long time, and come early and stay late and sit close, before he can get a girl or a job worth having.
  • All he ever needed was a few hundred for a starter, and to get that he’d decide to let me in on the ground floor. I want to say right here that whenever any one offers to let you in on the ground floor it’s a pretty safe rule to take the elevator to the roof garden.
  • I want to say right here that whenever any one offers to let you in on the ground floor it’s a pretty safe rule to take the elevator to the roof garden.
  • I don’t know anything that a young business man ought to keep more entirely to himself than his dislikes, unless it is his likes. It’s generally expensive to have either, but it’s bankruptcy to tell about them.
  • Superiority makes every man feel its equal. It is courtesy without condescension; affability without familiarity; self-sufficiency without selfishness; simplicity without snide.
  • There’s no easier way to cure foolishness than to give a man leave to be foolish. And the only way to show a fellow that he’s chosen the wrong business is to let him try it.
  • I want to say right here that the easiest way in the world to make enemies is to hire friends.
  • Get the scent in your nostrils and keep your nose to the ground, and don’t worry too much about the end of the chase. The fun of the thing’s in the run and not in the finish.
  • The fun of the thing’s in the run and not in the finish.
  • Never marry a poor girl who’s been raised like a rich one. She’s simply traded the virtues of the poor for the vices of the rich without going long on their good points. To marry for money or to marry without money is a crime. There’s no real objection to marrying a woman with a fortune, but there is to marrying a fortune with a woman.
  • While you are at it, there’s nothing like picking out a good-looking wife, because even the handsomest woman looks homely sometimes, and so you get a little variety; but a homely one can only look worse than usual. Beauty is only skin deep, but that’s deep enough to satisfy any reasonable man. (I want to say right here that to get any sense out of a proverb I usually find that I have to turn it wrong side out.) Then, too, if a fellow’s bound to marry a fool, and a lot of men have to if they’re going to hitch up into a well-matched team, there’s nothing like picking a good-looking one.
  • You can trust a woman’s taste on everything except men; and it’s mighty lucky that she slips up there or we’d pretty nigh all be bachelors.
  • Marrying the wrong girl is the one mistake that you’ve got to live with all your life.
  • There’s nothing in the world sicker-looking than the grin of the man who’s trying to join in heartily when the laugh’s on him, and to pretend that he likes it.
  • Always remember that a man who’s making a claim never underestimates his case, and that you can generally compromise
  • It looks to me as if you were trying only half as hard as you could, and in trying it’s the second half that brings results.
  • He knew his business. And when a fellow knows his business, he doesn’t have to explain to people that he does. It isn’t what a man knows, but what he thinks he knows that he brags about. Big talk means little knowledge.
  • There’s a vast difference between having a carload of miscellaneous facts sloshing around loose in your head and getting all mixed up in transit, and carrying the same assortment properly boxed and crated for convenient handling and immediate delivery.
  • Poverty never spoils a good man, but prosperity often does. It’s easy to stand hard times, because that’s the only thing you can do, but in good times the fool-killer has to do night work.
  • Most men get cross-eyed when they come to size themselves up, and see an angel instead of what they’re trying to look at. There’s nothing that tells the truth to a woman like a mirror, or that lies harder to a man.
  • Tact is the knack of keeping quiet at the right time; of being so agreeable yourself that no one can be disagreeable to you; of making inferiority feel like equality. A tactful man can pull the stinger from a bee without getting stung.
  • When you make a mistake, don’t make the second one—keeping it to yourself. Own up. The time to sort out rotten eggs is at the nest.
  • Some salesmen think that selling is like eating—to satisfy an existing appetite; but a good salesman is like a good cook—he can create an appetite when the buyer isn’t hungry.
  • Of course, clothes don’t make the man, but they make all of him except his hands and face during business hours, and that’s a pretty considerable area of the human animal. A dirty shirt may hide a pure heart, but it seldom covers a clean skin. If you look as if you had slept in your clothes, most men will jump to the conclusion that you have, and you will never get to know them well enough to explain that your head is so full of noble thoughts that you haven’t time to bother with the dandruff on your shoulders.
  • Appearances are deceitful, I know, but so long as they are, there’s nothing like having them deceive for us instead of against us.
  • But it isn’t enough to be all right in this world; you’ve got to look all right as well, because two-thirds of success is making people think you are all right.
  • A man can’t do what he pleases in this world, because the higher he climbs the plainer people can see him.
  • Jack had enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is the best shortening for any job; it makes heavy work light.
  • A good many young fellows envy their boss because they think he makes the rules and can do as he pleases. As a matter of fact, he’s the only man in the shop who can’t. He’s like the fellow on the tight-rope—there’s plenty of scenery under him and lots of room around him, but he’s got to keep his feet on the wire all the time and travel straight ahead.
  • No man can ask more than he gives. A fellow who can’t take orders can’t give them.
  • There’s no alarm clock for the sleepy man like an early rising manager; and there’s nothing breeds work in an office like a busy boss.
  • You can’t work individuals by general rules. Every man is a special case and needs a special pill.
  • The fellow who can’t read human nature can’t manage it.
  • Be slow to hire and quick to fire.
  • But when you find that you’ve hired the wrong man, you can’t get rid of him too quick. Pay him an extra month, but don’t let him stay another day.
  • Some fellows can only see those above them, and others can only see those under them, but a good man is cross-eyed and can see both ends at once.
  • A man’s as good as he makes himself, but no man’s any good because his grandfather was.
  • A man who does big things is too busy to talk about them.
  • There are two things you never want to pay any attention to—abuse and flattery. The first can’t harm you and the second can’t help you.
  • As long as you can’t please both sides in this world, there’s nothing like pleasing your own side.
  • There are mighty few people who can see any side to a thing except their own side.
  • Worrying is the one game in which, if you guess right, you don’t get any satisfaction out of your smartness. A busy man has no time to bother with it.
  • Money ought never to be the consideration in marriage, but it always ought to be a consideration. When a boy and a girl don’t think enough about money before the ceremony, they’re going to have to think altogether too much about it after;
  • A good wife doubles a man’s expenses and doubles his happiness, and that’s a pretty good investment if a fellow’s got the money to invest.
  • I’ve never been one who could get a great deal of satisfaction out of dreams.
  • With most people happiness is something that is always just a day off. But I have made it a rule never to put off being happy till to-morrow.

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