All the money in the world (or at least, a large percentage of it) was not able to save half a year of the life and and lifetime of mental health of a hippie teenager kidnapped in 1973 who happened to be the grandson of tycoon J. Paul Getty. The recent movie with the title of this blog post brought to life the ordeal suffered by 16-year old Paul Getty who was kidnapped in Rome by Italian mafia and held in deteriorating conditions for months as his stubborn grandfather refused to give in to his mother’s pleas to pay the $3.2 million ransom (at a time when the rich man himself was valued at over $2 billion). Greed, fear, hatred, stunted emotional development all played into a ludicruous yet ultimately tragic scenario in which the young Paul was eventually released (only after his grandfather gave the maximum tax-deductible amount of $2 million and the rest as a loan to his son), with his right ear cut off and his sanity ravaged. Paul went on to a life of drug addiction, a failed marriage, and ultimately a devastating stroke that made him permanently disabled. A quadriplegic who died at 54 after over 30 years in a wheelchair – not the life you would imagine as a potential heir to an oil fortune.
While the movie may not be 100% correct (this article does a good job of highlighting some of its factual oversteps), it is nonetheless both fascinating and terrifying that the man who founded the Getty Trust and the breathtaking Museum and Villa in coastal California also caused the destruction of the life and spirit of not just his grandson but most of his progeny. Money, while not the root of all evil, can allow vice to flourish, and the overeager quest for more cash can destroy lives.
Thankfully, it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to money. Apart from the movie, All the Money in The World is also a book written by journalist and time-management expert Laura Vanderkam, with the subtitle What the Happiest People Know about Getting and Spending, leading us to hope that – in some ways – money can buy us happiness. Vanderkam’s book leads us through many philosophies and theories when it comes to dollars exchanging hands, from getting, spending, and sharing, and ends with a “How to Buy Happiness Handbook”.
Vanderkam is a journalist, and so most chapters of her book can be read as separate articles or blog posts. There is a cohesive theme running through the book, namely that money can bring us closer to happiness if we spend it well and share it wisely. She quotes studies and provides many examples of people who are quite content with their lives on either ends of the spending/saving spectrum. While not an introduction to personal finance, the book does challenge often-heard slogans about saving for retirement or setting up college funds, thus provoking readers to think through these issues for themselves.
I enjoyed the novel take on the topic of money, and examples of diferent financial philosophies from backyard chicken breeders to tiny house dwellers to startup employees. Vanderkam provides a rational, balanced look at many of the truisms bandied about in the personal finance sector today, and I found the author’s voice to be friendly. If I did find one thing missing from the book, it would be more in-depth references to research. A lot of the descriptions in the book seem anecdotal, or consist in long quotes from comments sections of blogposts, which somewhat detracts from the flow of the narrative. However, overall, I really liked this reminder that all the money in the world may not bring all the happiness, but that’s OK – even smaller amounts of money, wisely spent and shared, can lift our overall mood and well-being, and contribute to the betterment of the world around us.