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A grandparent asked recently for some advice on which financial book to buy a 15-year-old for his birthday, and one book immediately came to mind.

It’s The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton. First published in 1989, I’d argue that it’s the most successful personal finance book ever written. Forget the two million copies sold in Canada. This book’s real achievement was showing how personal finance could be made relevant and comprehensible to everyday people. No one’s equalled it, although many have shamelessly copied its plain-talk, novelized format.

David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber.

Anne-Marie Jackson/The Globe and Mail

Back in 1990, I was covering business for The Canadian Press and preparing for an interview with Mr. Chilton by reading his phenomenally successful book. I loved it. But more important, I got it. There weren’t a lot of personal finance and investing books around back then, but those we had in the office seemed dry as dust to me. Unlike The Wealthy Barber, they seemed to speak over my head to people who already had money and were looking at ways to make more.

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For other opinions on an ideal financial book for a 15-year-old, I reached to the members of my Facebook personal finance community. The most commonly mentioned book, if only by a little? The Wealthy Barber. Others mentions included:

  • Wealthing Like Rabbits, by Robert Brown: “Examples use everything from Mario Bros. buying real estate to explaining compounding interest with zombies,” one reader wrote.
  • Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill: A classic written in 1937.
  • Personal Finance for Dummies (Canadian edition): “A good introduction,” one reader wrote.

The most amusing response to my book query: “At 15, I would have hated such a gift,” one person wrote. “When I was 25 I appreciated that type of gift.”

Mr. Chilton wrote a sort of sequel a few years ago called The Wealthy Barber Returns. It’s an attempt to make sense of why so many people continue to struggle with money and it’s worth a read because Mr. Chilton reveals many of the insights he’s gained over the years about personal finance. Buy this book for someone who has already started to think hard about money and investing. For a newbie of any age, the original Wealthy Barber is gold.

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