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Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy
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Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  239 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
From New York Times bestselling author and economics columnist Robert Frank, a compelling book that explains why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in their success, why that hurts everyone, and what we can do about it

How important is luck in economic success? No question more reliably divides conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, peop
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 19th 2016 by Princeton University Press (first published February 22nd 2016)
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Michael Harris They'll definitely be covering a similar topic, but De Botton is coming from a humanities-centered perspective and rarely uses data. Frank will try to…moreThey'll definitely be covering a similar topic, but De Botton is coming from a humanities-centered perspective and rarely uses data. Frank will try to demonstrate the same conclusion empirically, I imagine, being an economics professor. (less)

Community Reviews

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Atila Iamarino
Sep 17, 2016 Atila Iamarino rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economia, sociedade
Um livro curto mas muito bom, com a melhor discussão de meritocracia que já encontrei. O autor faz uma grande discussão sobre porque tendemos a achar mais que o nosso sucesso é devido apenas à competência pessoal conforme ganhamos mais. Também fala sobre o papel da chance e de infraestrutura para alguém poder dar certo.

Tudo isso para argumentar por um tipo diferente de taxação para os mais ricos (que é a área de pesquisa do autor). Não foi bem pelo que li o livro, mas também é uma lição legal.
May 10, 2016 Brandon rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
This book is a mixed bag of goodness, thought provocation, and then a seemingly random diversion into tax policy. There are some great dinner party conversation starter ideas contained herein, and if you have ever given this topic any thought, this is worth the time.

In my own personal self-evaluation of the last couple of years, I have been reflecting deeply on the role of seemingly inconsequential acts from unintended benefactors have shaped my future success. There is no doubt, then, that luck
This is a compact book by Cornell economist Robert Frank that continues his push to get people to consider his major tax reform idea, but also clothes it in the broader issue of how much talent matters in people's success vs. luck.

Frank's main thesis, backed up by convincing studies, is that because there are so many talented, hard working people striving to succeed, the ones who do reach the rarefied air of the top 1 percent also have to have benefited from a great deal of luck, whether it is t
Oct 11, 2016 Scott rated it really liked it
Stuart Varney and many others insist that people who amass great fortunes are invariably talented, hardworking, and socially productive. That’s a bit of an overstatement—think of lip-synching boy bands, or derivatives traders who got spectacularly rich who got spectacularly rich before bringing the world economy to its knees. Yet it’s clear that most of the biggest winners in the marketplace are both extremely talented and hardworking. On this point, Varney is largely correct.

But what about the
May 15, 2016 Zahwil rated it liked it
I bought this book because I am interested by the fact that people feel deserving of the rewards of their work; yet in a deep way, we don't influence our talents or even our propensity for hard work. That is, we are have certain natural endowments (say genes) that are cultivated, or not, by our parents and early childhood experiences.

I was disappointed that Frank's book only addresses the philosophical underpinnings of success and luck in a tangential way. He doesn't get into the really deep st
Sep 16, 2016 Arup rated it liked it
Acknowledge you are lucky -> Don't claim more credit than you deserve -> Realize that you have surplus earnings -> Pay more taxes -> Taxes will ensure continuity of the social/economic order which is the source of luck.
Argues for progressive consumption taxes to curtail (wasteful) positional expenditures of the super-rich.
Apr 14, 2016 Gaspar rated it really liked it
This book has three main arguments:

(i) "chance events play a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people once imagined".

(ii)people who recognize this are more grateful and prone to accept taxes that will pay for the needed infrastructure (like education, highways, R&D) that helped them to be where they are now. This infrastructure is not for them, it is for the next generation, so they can have the same basic opportunities or tools they had. This is being grateful.

This two
May 23, 2016 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, economics
Nicely written, thought provoking, thoughtful, an argument for the importance of luck and the reasons (some good and adaptive and others problematic) that the more successful we are the more we undervalue its importance. Robert Frank does not argue that the successful are not talented or hard working, just that these are not enough. In the course of this argument he extensively reprises some of his major previous themes, including the winner take all economy (which magnifies the importance of an ...more
Dennis Fischman
Jan 10, 2017 Dennis Fischman rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book surprised me. I knew I would agree with the basic premise (that every financial success is based in part on good luck, and that even highly talented, dedicated, and hard-working people get ahead of other talented, dedicated hard workers in part because they are lucky). I looked forward to reading some pithy examples, and Frank did not disappoint:

* Without the right breaks, which defied the odds, neither actor Al Pacino nor actor Bryan Cranston would have become stars. (Can you imagine
Dec 21, 2016 Jenny rated it liked it
Super awesome start and then got too economics for me.

Here's what I want to remember:

(p. xvi) "In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that
Jan 14, 2017 Augiemarch rated it it was amazing
Robert Frank is an economist at Cornell University. He is a columnist with the New York Times and has authored a number of economic books.
Success and Luck should be required reading for all those interested in how the economy and society operates. The book has two themes. Firstly, it looks at how the concept or idea of luck plays an important role in people's lives. Too often those who are “successful” (especially in obtaining wealth) attribute their success purely to their hard work and dedicat
John  Edgar Mihelic
Dec 18, 2016 John Edgar Mihelic rated it liked it
In this book, Robert Frank is doing to things in my opinion.

The first is that success in life is due in large part to luck. Your economic outcomes are dependent on lots of things that can be assigned to random chance outside of the old canard of hard working men pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. I think the case is made in the book for that hypothesis to viewed as mostly true.

The second part is that there should be a progressive consumption tax. This is dropped in the last third of the b
Breezy, non-technical investigation of the role of luck and random chance in economic success, and how certain societal arrangements tend to reinforce the successes of the fortunate.

Ends with advocacy of a progressive consumption tax, apparently to curb conspicuous consumption among the already wealthy and use it to bolster of equality of opportunity.
Nov 22, 2016 Jonathan rated it liked it
"Success and Luck" makes interesting and important points about the role of luck as a factor in success and the importance and implications of recognizing it as such. I enjoyed the book overall, although I found it to be overly anecdote-driven (as the author admits). But it breezes by.

3.5 stars
Sean Cunningham
Nov 29, 2016 Sean Cunningham rated it liked it
Glad I read this. Interesting meditation on the role of luck In success. Progressive consumption tax chapter seemed misplaced.
Paul Williams
Dec 19, 2016 Paul Williams rated it liked it
Good arguments made about luck being an important aspect of success. I didn't understand why the author decided to add in a full argument to implement a progressive consumption tax???
Blaine Squires
Oct 21, 2016 Blaine Squires rated it liked it
I will use several of the messages. It is good to be reminded about our luck as part of our success. The author did take the opportunity to push his ideas on tax reform throughout the book
Jack Oughton
Oct 17, 2016 Jack Oughton rated it really liked it
I feel that Robert strikes a nice middle ground between total fatalism and what I would call the myth of the entirely self made person.

Thought provoking...
Susan Oleksiw
Sep 28, 2016 Susan Oleksiw rated it it was amazing
No one wants to believe that all the good things we achieve are the result of chance, or luck, but each one of us knows that finding a good parking space so we were on time for a meeting was plain dumb luck. But we don't continue with that thought, and include the chance meeting with the CEO before the meeting that led to a promotion. And yet, as the author Robert Frank points out, luck plays a role throughout life, and one lucky break becomes magnified over the years.
As part of the discussion,
Tadas Talaikis
Oct 04, 2016 Tadas Talaikis rated it really liked it

For me this is like not so needed confirmation that someone came to similar conclusions - people tend to not understand probability, everyone are above average and everyone have magic skils. Especially those who had the "skill" to be born in particular place and time.

But every ship is risen by the tide, and as a consequence - beta is far more important than some individual alpha. Meaning, no one really knows where something and for whom it will happen, but after the event people will elect one a
Oct 06, 2016 Pablo rated it really liked it
A truly fantastic book, easy to read but powerful in its messages: luck plays a non trivial part in the success of people, awareness of this part luck plays is related to people's willingness to help others (including by paying more taxes)and the idea of the consumption tax as a way to improve everybody's lives even while we pay more taxes.
A must read by a renowned author and professor, I strongly recommend this book.
Trey Hunner
Sep 26, 2016 Trey Hunner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
During the first first 70% of the book, the author discusses the essential role of luck in our lives. He puts words to some ways of thinking about the world that I relate to but have trouble articulating.

The last 30% of the book involves the author describing his ideal methods of taxation (progressive consumption tax and estate tax).

I really enjoyed both parts of the book, but they do seem like they should have been separate books. I'd recommend the first half to people who don't understand my s
Sep 10, 2016 Donn rated it really liked it
This is one of the books that I think belongs next to Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb on my bookshelf.

I really enjoyed the argument of the role luck plays in success, how even though you may have two very skilled people, the lesser skilled might still come out on top (and in fact, it was argued that it is highly unlikely that the MOST skilled come out on top even if luck played just a 1% bit part.)

What I probably didn't so much agree with were the politics of the book - where the author put
Fernando Hoces de la Guardia F.
Mix feeling about this one.
On the plus side is a grand summary of all of Frank's ideas (winner take all society, positional consumption, progressive consumption tax, pro-infraestructure investment) under the general theme of luck as a main determinant of our achievements. All this in just 200 pages.
On the down side I am not sure there was anything new in the book, if you read The Darwin Economy, The Winner Take All and The Return of the Economics Naturalist, this book would not bring much else
Bryan Higgs
Jun 07, 2016 Bryan Higgs rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, economics
I heard of this book when I saw Facebook posts about it. I have long believed that people who became successful should admit that being born into a privileged family in an advanced nation, having had the benefit of a good education, and being born/started work at a beneficial time, etc., were critical to their success. Instead, far too many of them think they were successful solely because of their hard work and talent. To be sure, hard work and talent play a role, but many people who have worke ...more
John Stein
Jun 22, 2016 John Stein rated it liked it
Shelves: policy-politics
A vitally important observation, that leaders need to understand, but should have been a much better book.

Let's face it, our society is built on the myth of Meritocracy - that the winners got there because they are the "best" and through their own industry and hard work "deserve" their success. The reality is that while in success and work and talent are somewhat correlated in the aggregate - the relationship is looser in the specific. e.g. Two talented lab assistants in the same research lab ar
Aug 25, 2016 Shannon rated it liked it
Cool stuff I have learned from this book:
- There is a 'free lunch' when everyone consumes less in situations where people benefit from relative & not absolute consumption; e.g. the bigger-antler problem
- People who live in Manhattan live in smaller spaces even if they can afford to buy the entire building because it's not a norm in Manhattan to have a 20k sqft house
- The amount of chance happenings occur so often that some things we see as extremely improbable (e.g., having a nightmare abou
Gabriel Giambastiani
Aug 13, 2016 Gabriel Giambastiani rated it really liked it
[…] the best way to think about the role of external forces depends on where you are in the life cycle and on whether you’re looking ahead or back. […]

You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes…. As you go through life, you should pass through different phases in thinking about how much credit you deserve. You should start your life with the illusion that you are completely in control of what you do. Yo
Robert admitted that the book was originally sub-titled as "My Own Perspective". I think this is better. The book covers many interesting personal stories of himself, for example how the very rare timely arrival of ambulance in Ithaca saved his life from heart attack that leads 96% chance of death. And he also reflects how unproductive his initial years as a professor at Cornell was due to divorce and so forth but later he successfully obtained tenure for pure "luck"(I do not believe in it). The ...more
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Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and a Professor of Economics at Cornell University's S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management. He contributes to the "Economic View" column, which appears every fifth Sunday in The New York Times.
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“They like the tax because they believe, correctly, that it will stimulate much needed savings and investment. But it’s an even better policy instrument than they think.” 0 likes
“Homo economicus would cheat only if he stood to benefit by enough and if the odds of being caught were sufficiently low. So the mere fact that he does not have a reputation for being a cheat tells us only that he’s been prudent.” 0 likes
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