How to Prosper during the Coming Bad Years, by Howard J. Ruff, New York: Harper and Row, 1979, 248 pp., $8.95.
Fear is one of the ingredients most guaranteed to make a book a bestseller, and Howard Ruff's latest tome, How to Prosper during the Coming Bad Years, peddles lots of fear. Since its recent publication, it has leaped up the bestsellers' lists—which news, despite reservations about the book, is welcome.
For the book is vintage Ruff; it displays all the virtues and all the faults of the man, his newsletter, and his television show. Indeed, readers of his twice-monthly letter, Ruff Times, will have a feeling of déjà vu on reading the book. They would not be wrong. Ruff has admitted that 35-40 percent of the book is a "cut-and-paste job" and that the whole work was completed in three months. It shows.
Chief of the reservations is the author's style. At times dogmatic, as though he were preaching, the book often reads as though Ruff himself had discovered gold, food storage, or even the free market itself.
Ruff tells the story on himself of his daughter, who on being told by her mother that she did not know the answer to a question and to "ask your father," replied, "I don't want to know that much about it." Ruff can go on a bit, it's true, but there's not too much danger of finding out "too much about it" from this book. It is too often shallow, reading like a synopsis of other people's ideas.
Having said all that, there is much to recommend the book, especially to those who are new to "survivalism" or crisis investing. It is a valuable introduction and summary of others' useful ideas, and those new to Ruff will perhaps find the style tolerable and certainly the ideas easy to understand.
His philosophical premises are in essentials correct, his scenario at least tenable, and his investment advice to meet that scenario basically sound. If the informed reader might find the book too superficial except for occasional chapters, such as that on food storage programs, the less informed will doubtless find it a useful introduction.
And as the book shoots up the bestsellers' lists, we should at least be thankful that the great unwashed are reading Ruff rather than some frivolity or, worse, some Galbraithian fiction.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "How to Prosper during the Coming Bad Years".