“Rags to Riches”, American Style: Classics from Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie


Although the “rags to riches” motif is ancient and widespread, the American version has attained a unique place in world culture. This course examines two of the most well-known — but often little-understood — American embodiments of the “rags to riches” motif: the fictional characters of Horatio Alger, Jr. on the one hand, and the decidedly non-fictional Andrew Carnegie (who rose from poverty to become one of the richest men in the world) on the other. Readings include Alger’s all-time best-selling novel Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks and Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” essays. Continue reading

Arts of Affluence [3]: Families and Inheritance (Planning)


Family legacies often have unintended consequences. Through the close reading and discussion of fiction and non-fiction works and the consideration of two films,  this course will explore the types and consequences of family legacies and consider the ways in which such legacies can be designed to help and not hurt. Texts will include: Hughes’s Family Wealth, Hausner and Freeman’s The Legacy Family, Williams and Preisser’s Philanthropy, Heirs and Values and Condon and Condon’s Beyond the Grave as well as Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Continue reading

Arts of Affluence [2]: (Passive) Investing on Wall Street


Modern financial research suggests that investing success is generally unrelated to investing skill — and therefore that the best way to “win” the investing “game” is not to “play” it at all. This course will examine the “passive investing thesis” through the close reading and discussion of contemporary investing classics alongside a consideration of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Texts will include: Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street and William Bernstein’s The Four Pillars of Investing. Continue reading

“A Rich Man Who Dies Rich Dies in Disgrace”: Andrew Carnegie and “The Gospel of Wealth”


As perhaps the classic embodiment of the “rags-to-riches” American Dream, Andrew Carnegie developed a well-thought-out perspective on the proper place of wealth — the getting of it, the living with it and the giving away of it — in a democracy. Indeed, Carnegie both articulated what came to be known as his “Gospel of Wealth” in numerous writings and speeches and manifested it in his life, including in his numerous charitable gifts. Through an examination of Carnegie’s works, this lecture will explore Carnegie’s perspective on wealth, with special attention to those aspects that drove Carnegie to become the father of modern philanthropy. Continue reading

Arts of Affluence [1]: Wealth and the American Dream


For better or worse, one version of the American Dream has long equated “success” with “material wealth”. This course will explore that equation through the close reading and discussion of important fiction and non-fiction works from America’s Gilded Age and the consideration of two films on wealth in America (Citizen Kane by Orson Welles and Born Rich by Jamie Johnson). Texts will include: Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as well as Andrew Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth”, and Thorsten Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. Continue reading