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Steinmetz, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived

The Richest Man Who Ever Lived

Well, maybe. The other day I read that Mansa Musa, who ruled West Africa's Malian Empire in the Middle Ages, was the richest person in history, with a personal net worth of $400 billion at the time of his death. Greg Steinmetz's The Richest Man Who Ever Lived (Simon & Schuster, 2015) isn't about Mansa Musa, however, but about Jacob/Jakob Fugger (1459-1525), the groundbreaking banker and mining magnate from Augsburg, Germany.

In support of his “richest man” claim, Steinmetz used a metric that he admits is flawed: comparing a person's net worth with the size of the economy in which he operated. An alternative method, measuring Fugger by his worth in gold, “a method that has the virtue of adjusting for inflation, chops him down to a mere $50 million, making him no wealthier than, say, a successful real estate developer or a multilocation car dealer. That's not right either.” (p. 202)

Fortunately, for the merit of Steinmetz's book, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived , --which is quite a good read, especially for anyone interested in economic history--Fugger's rank among the richest really doesn't matter. Fugger was important not only because he was so...


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