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Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to His Son: Summary and Review

Book Author: George Horace Lorimer

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5 Reasons you should read this book today

  1. Timeless Business Wisdom: The book contains practical and timeless business advice from a successful self-made merchant. This counsel includes learning from the ground up, the importance of integrity and hard work, and understanding the people involved in your business. It serves as an excellent manual for aspiring entrepreneurs or anyone navigating the business world.

  2. Life Lessons: Beyond business, Lorimer's book offers advice on various aspects of life, from choosing the right life partner to the importance of maintaining health. The lessons are presented through relatable anecdotes, making them easy to understand and apply in one's life.

  3. Humor and Engagement: The humor and wit that are intricately woven into the serious advice make the book highly engaging. Reading it is not just an enlightening experience but also an entertaining one, helping the reader absorb the advice more easily.

  4. Character Development: The book emphasizes principles such as integrity, respect, perseverance, and responsibility. Reading it can provide insights into these values, fostering personal character development and maturity.

  5. Historical Perspective: Set in the late 19th to early 20th century, the book provides an interesting look into the business practices and societal norms of the time. It offers a unique historical perspective, making it appealing for those interested in social history and the evolution of business practices.

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Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to His Son: Summary and Review

"Letters From a Self Made Merchant to His Son" by George Horace Lorimer is a remarkable piece of literature that offers keen insights into the world of business and personal growth. Published in 1901, it chronicles the counsel of a self-made, successful businessman, John Graham, to his son Pierrepont. The book, containing twenty letters in total, is a distillation of timeless principles and sage advice that still resonates in the 21st century.

The book starts with Pierrepont in Harvard, his father paying his tuition, but the senior Graham doesn't stop there - he sends regular letters to his son. In these letters, John Graham imparts invaluable wisdom on success, life, business, and morality. His lessons aren't limited to bookish knowledge; they delve deep into the application of values and principles to everyday situations.

In the first set of letters, Graham encourages his son to make the most of his time at Harvard, but he cautions against becoming too "bookish." Graham believes in the balance of academia and practical knowledge. He repeatedly underscores the importance of real-world experience and wisdom over mere book learning.

As Pierrepont graduates and starts working at the barrel factory owned by Graham's firm, the letters then shift to practical workplace advice. He advises his son to start at the bottom and understand every process involved in the business. This will allow Pierrepont to become familiar with every aspect of the operation and gain respect from the employees. This segment strongly emphasizes the importance of hard work, patience, and perseverance.

Throughout the book, Graham imparts advice on various topics, including integrity, courage, and responsibility. He counsels Pierrepont on the importance of keeping one's word and maintaining one's reputation. According to him, these are crucial in establishing trust in the business world.

Moreover, Graham also explores the necessity of prudent decision-making and cautious risk-taking in the business world. He notes that every decision has consequences and that it is essential to be thoughtful and deliberate in each choice one makes.

As Pierrepont matures and encounters various situations in his professional life, Graham's advice evolves too. In later letters, Graham discusses the importance of choosing the right life partner, managing personal finances, and dealing with success and failure.

In the final letters, Graham bestows upon Pierrepont some closing thoughts, emphasizing the value of happiness, health, and family over wealth. He encourages Pierrepont to live a balanced life and not to be consumed by the pursuit of success.

In summary, "Letters From a Self Made Merchant to His Son" is a narrative filled with life-altering wisdom and moral lessons presented in a fatherly, warm, and often humorous tone. Though the context is more than a century old, the underlying principles remain relevant, offering timeless advice on personal growth, business acumen, and moral values. By reading these letters, one not only gains a clearer perspective on the roadmap to success in the business world but also receives profound insights about personal development, making it a must-read for aspiring entrepreneurs and individuals committed to personal growth.


1. Esteemed author James Clear, known for his bestseller "Atomic Habits," frequently lauds "Letters From a Self Made Merchant to His Son" as a book that delivers a treasure trove of wisdom applicable to personal and professional life. He praises the book for its practical, straightforward advice addressing many of life's fundamental challenges.

2. In a vintage review, The New Yorker described the book as a "gem of old-fashioned wisdom and humor." The reviewer lauded Lorimer's ability to infuse profound life lessons with humor, making the reader laugh while also providing substantial food for thought.

3. The book maintains a high rating on platforms like Goodreads, demonstrating its enduring popularity among readers. Users there appreciate the timeless business advice and principles of hard work, integrity, and respect, which Lorimer artfully conveys through his fictional characters.


Despite its classic status and general popularity, "Letters From a Self Made Merchant to His Son" is not without its critics.

1. Critics have pointed out that the book, rooted in the era it was written, may seem outdated in both language and context. Certain pieces of advice and situations may not directly translate to the modern reader's context, making it challenging to relate to the text.

2. Some readers perceive the tone of the father in the letters as overly authoritative or condescending. This tone could potentially distance readers who may find it off-putting.

3. Some critics have pointed out that the book seems to emphasize commercial and material success, with less regard for personal happiness and work-life balance. This tilt could give readers an unbalanced perception of success.

Nevertheless, "Letters From a Self Made Merchant to His Son" stands as an enduring literary work, its appeal transcending generations. While it reflects the mores and business attitudes of a bygone era, it also serves as a repository of timeless wisdom that remains relevant. As with all literary works, it is subject to various interpretations, and the best approach is to engage with the text firsthand, extracting and applying the nuggets of wisdom that resonate individually.

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Fan FaQs

George Horace Lorimer was born on October 6, 1867, in Louisville, Kentucky. He grew up in a religious family - his father was a well-respected clergyman. After finishing his schooling, Lorimer worked a series of jobs, ranging from farmer to salesman, which provided him with a broad perspective on life and work that later informed his writing.

Lorimer didn't pursue a formal higher education immediately after school. It wasn't until he was 22 that he decided to enroll at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Demonstrating an exceptional work ethic, he supported himself through college by working a variety of jobs. He graduated from Colby College in 1891 and then attended Yale University for graduate work in political science.

After Yale, Lorimer entered the world of journalism. He initially joined the Boston-based 'Saturday Evening Post' as a literary editor in 1897. His exceptional abilities were soon recognized, and he was promoted to editor-in-chief in 1899. Under Lorimer's leadership, the 'Saturday Evening Post' transformed from a small publication to one of America's most popular magazines.

Lorimer had a knack for spotting talent. He was responsible for publishing works by authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Jack London, many of whom saw their careers significantly boosted by their exposure in the magazine. Lorimer's editorial guidance was a critical factor in the success of these writers.

In addition to his editorial work, Lorimer was also a successful author. His most famous work is "Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son." The book is a collection of letters written by a fictional successful businessman, John Graham, to his son Pierrepont. Each letter offers sage advice on various aspects of life and business, with the aim of preparing Pierrepont for his future career and personal development. The book became a bestseller and continues to be read for its timeless wisdom.

Lorimer also authored the sequel, "Old Gorgon Graham," and "The False Gods," which were also well-received.

George Horace Lorimer passed away on October 22, 1937. His legacy continues through his contributions to American literature and journalism. His editorship at the 'Saturday Evening Post' significantly shaped American popular culture during the early 20th century, and his books remain a source of inspiration and advice for many.

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Other Works

  1. "Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son" (1903): This book is a sequel to "Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son." It continues the correspondence between the fictional businessman John Graham (nicknamed Old Gorgon Graham) and his son Pierrepont. The letters in this volume delve deeper into business matters, particularly concerning the pork and finance industries, with Graham's characteristic blend of humor, tough love, and sage advice.

  2. "The False Gods" (1906): This novel deviates from the epistolary style of Lorimer's other works. It tells the story of a young man, George Ogden, who goes to the city in search of wealth and status. The narrative explores themes of ambition, materialism, and the societal pressure to succeed. It's a moral tale that warns readers of the dangers of worshipping false gods like wealth, power, and social status.

  3. "Jack Spurlock, Prodigal" (1908): This novel centers around the life of Jack Spurlock, a young man with a carefree attitude towards life and his responsibilities. After inheriting a fortune, Jack squanders it away, leading to a series of adventures and misadventures. The story is a blend of humor and moral lessons, with a focus on the importance of hard work, personal responsibility, and the dangers of excess.

  4. "Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to his Wife" (1905): While this book is often misattributed to Lorimer, it's actually a separate work written by Margaret Wolfe Hamilton Hungerford. However, due to the similarity in title and theme to Lorimer's work, it's often included in lists of his books. This book is also a collection of letters, though it offers a more domestic perspective, as the letters are from the self-made merchant to his wife.


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