“The only way I could see a young child getting anything out of this is if an adult who really, really cared about what was in this book was sharing it with them, maybe bit by bit and talking about it with them in terms they could understand,” Horning said, after looking through the first few pages. “I would say 6-year-olds aren’t really thinking about success, not in big lofty terms.” So, in all likelihood, reading a book like this to a 6-year-old is going to do more for the parents—in giving them the feeling that they’re setting up their child for success—than the kid.
Perhaps Principles for Success is a better fit for older kids. “When they get to be 10, in that vicinity, they’re reading it to themselves; high-school kids fully get it,” Dalio told me, based on his communications with parents and teachers on social media. He thinks of his book as an attempt to compensate for what he says traditional schools don’t teach. “We learn math, we learn science, we learn all sorts of things [in school], programming. We learn, learn, learn,” he said. “But principles about how to approach life well are not taught." (He has made Principles for Success available for free to teachers, and the proceeds from sales of the book will go to DonorsChoose, an educational charity.)
Horning noted the popularity of graphic novels among teens, and said that she thought the book, given that its aesthetic doesn’t scan as being for young children, could be “something you would give to someone graduating from middle school or high school—a sort of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! type of book.” That said, she added, teens “are not terribly known for taking advice from adults, especially Boomers.”
If the book is too complex for young kids to fully grasp, and if older kids might be hesitant to follow its advice, maybe it works best as a SparkNotes-esque simplification of the 600-page Principles for success-hungry but time-crunched adults. “I’m finding that adults at any age find it helpful,” Dalio said, though he noted that the original text is much more thorough.
Adults reading Principles for Success would indeed miss out on some of the ideas in Principles, particularly some of its harder-edged material. In that latter text, Dalio compiled more than 200 axioms that he came up with while running Bridgewater Associates, a highly profitable hedge fund with an unorthodox, sometimes adversarial culture of “radical transparency.” It’s no surprise that some of those principles didn’t make the “all ages” cut; nuggets such as “Evaluate accurately, not kindly” and “Be willing to ‘shoot the people you love’” would probably go over better in meetings than at storytime (and even then, only barely).
Some of this bluntness seeps into Principles for Success, particularly in a “life arc”—presented as a checklist—at the end of the book that’s meant to prompt readers to think about the milestones that could be ahead of and behind them, such as being born, starting first grade, falling in love, going to college, getting a job, getting married, and having kids. The life arc, though, does not hold back on the gloomier aspects of getting older. It includes “friends die,” “spouse dies,” “have deadly illness or accident,” and, finally, “fight to live” and “pass away.” (Radical transparency can be kind of a bummer sometimes.)