Have you ever been in a situation where someone mentioned a book that you hadn’t read or known about? That happened to me in an interview with Andrew Warner, the founder of Mixergy. One of the five books that Andrew would like to have with him on a desert island is Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer.
When I first heard the title of the book, I immediately thought of the Cain and Abel Story in the Bible. In the Bible story, Cain kills his brother Abel, but that’s not the case with Jeffrey Archer’s book.
Below, you’ll find my thoughts on Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer.
Initial Thoughts on Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer is among 100 books listed in The Big Read Book of Books, a list of books chosen by the British public. The BBC asked the British public on April 5, 2003,
“What is your best loved book? The one that feels like an old friend; the one you grew up with; the one that gets you through hard times; even the one that changed your life?”
The Big Read Book of Books is the result of that poll.
“Kane and Abel was the breakthrough in my career as a writer, and remains the most popular of my works to date. This was the reason why, 30 years after its publication, I set about the task of re-writing it. Re-crafting turned out to be a more accurate description of what took place during the next nine months, because despite making considerable revisions, the plot remains unchanged.” Source: Kane and Abel – Compare the old Kane and Abel and the version rewritten by Jeffrey Archer
Note: The BBC World Book Club is doing a recording with Jeffrey Archer on March 9, 2017, so I thought I would republish this book review of Kane and Abel. I first published it in April 2014. The BBC World Book asked me to submit a question to ask Archer.
What is Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer About?
I bought Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer last year and finally decided to read it. The book teaches great business lessons, much better than some of the business books around. William Lowell Kane and Abel Rosnovski are born on the same day worlds apart, and under very different economic circumstances.
Kane is born into wealth and has a privileged upbringing, while Abel’s mother dies in childbirth, unwedded, and on the ground. He enters the world into a life of poverty. While hunting for supper, the eldest son of a trapper hears the harrowing screams of a woman. By the time he gets to the spot where the sound came from, he finds a dead woman and a child still attached to his mother.
The boy cuts the umbilical cord, forgets about the three rabbits he killed for supper, and takes the child to his mother. The poor family now has to apportion their meager food among nine mouths instead of eight.
His older ‘adopted’ sister, Florentyna who is eight years older, takes care of him, often giving him half of her food. Abel has a quest for knowledge and soaks up information like a sponge. He goes to school with his sister, and in no time is far ahead of all the other children at the school, even the ones who are older.
He gains the attention of Baron Rosnovski, who is seeking someone to challenge his son. The Baron asks the poor family if Abel can live with him to be a companion to his son Leon. Jasio, Abel’s ‘adopted father’, who has never loved the boy, happily says yes, but Abel refuses to go unless Florentyna is allowed to go with him.
Life is looking up for Abel until the Germans invade Poland and capture their home. The Baron and his son Leon die. Before the Baron dies, he discovers that Abel is his son, both are missing a nipple, which is very unusual. The Baron bequeaths all of his possessions to Abel since his son Leon predeceased him. After the Baron dies, the Russians invade Poland, chasing the Germans out, and Abel is taken to a concentration camp. But before they take the prisoners away from the estate, the Russian soldiers repeatedly sexually and physically abuse Florentyna until she dies. All these unspeakable events would harden the heart of the most devout person.
With the help of a doctor, who had been imprisoned in the concentration camp for 15 years, Abel is able to escape. He finds himself in many tight corners, but eventually gets to Turkey. The Russian rubles that the doctor gave him are useless in Turkey, so he steals some food and gets arrested. Before he loses his hand for stealing, British diplomats rescue him, and he is taken to the Polish Consulate. He works as an aide there for the Polish Consul, Pawel Zaleski. After a few short years, with the help of Zaleski, Abel finds himself sailing to America.
Kane’s father, Richard Kane, a multimillionaire, dies when the Titanic sinks. Kane is raised by his mother, Anne, and both of his grandmothers. When Kane is eight years old, his grandmothers think that it is time for him to learn about the value of money.
He receives $1 each week, and has to account for how he spends every penny, in a leather ledger. The stipulation is that Kane invests 50 cents, spend 20 cents, donate 10 cents to charity and keep 20 cents in reserve. Within three months, Kane understands what he is doing. As he grows older, he becomes good at investing, and develops his criteria for investing in stocks: Low multiples of earnings; high growth rate; strong asset backing; and favorable trading forecasts.
When Kane goes away to boarding school, he tells his mother that he doesn’t need any money, and is able to live on his own means. By the time he graduates from university, he has amassed $1 million. Kane works for the family’s bank and starts to build his reputation.
When Abel arrives in the US, he makes use of the opportunities that present themselves. For instance, he gets an education at Columbia, and he works a series of jobs until Davis Leroy discovers him, and he starts working in the hotel business.
While working as the assistant manager at Chicago Richmond, he discovers a theft ring, and the leader is the Hotel Manager, Desmond Pacey. The hotel manager is a close friend of Davis Leroy. He gathers evidence, presents it to his boss, then fires Pacey and others involved in the thefts.
Abel also invests 25 percent in the hotel in Chicago, using all the money he has saved. The Great Depression in 1929 arrives and Davis Leroy loses all his gains in the stock market, as well as his hotels. Abel tries to get financing from Kane’s bank and is turned down. Leroy takes the easy way out and commits suicide. Abel blames Kane personally for Leroy’s death and vows to take Kane down.
Is that reasonable, to blame one person?
The bank has a board of directors that makes decisions, and although Kane recommends that they assist Abel, he is outvoted.
A nasty feud develops between Abel and Kane, each trying to take the other down. I personally think that Abel was more ruthless than Kane. I am an immigrant, and I understand the immigrant experience, and as an immigrant, you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself. Abel is referred to as a self-made millionaire, but no one attains success alone, he received helping hands along the way. Kane is born into wealth, but he proves his worth by amassing a $1 million by the time he leaves university.
Like any good novel, Archer pairs Kane’s son, Richard with Abel’s daughter, Florentyna, and both fathers refuse to accept the situation. Both heirs marry without their father’s blessing, and they thrive and make a name for themselves.
Lessons from Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
- Where you start out in life doesn’t necessarily dictate where you end up.
- Make the most of the opportunities that come your way.
- Manage your money, and remember to pay yourself.
- Take the path less traveled.
- Don’t give away your power by blaming others.
Final Thoughts on Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer is an excellent story that spans over sixty years. We learn that greed and revenge are never good. Being an immigrant is no reason to behave poorly, and being born into wealth is no reason to behave poorly either.
In the end, we learn that William Kane is the unnamed person, who provided Abel with the funds he needed to bring the hotel chain back to financial health when the bank refused the financing he needed. This reminded me that we have to take responsibility for our lives, and to stop blaming others, even if they contribute to harming us. That is such a tough thing to do, isn’t it?
Related Posts: Andrew Warner’s Interviews
Where it began. I read Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer because it is one of the books that Andrew Warner from Mixergy would take on a desert island.
Andrew Warner, Founder of Mixergy.com – Interview
Andrew Warner, Founder of Mixergy.com Part Two
Andrew Warner, Founder, Mixergy.com Part Three
Andrew Warner, Founder Mixergy.com Part Four (Mentions Kane and Abel)
Books by Jeffrey Archer
Not a Penny More, Not a Penny LessKane and AbelA Prisoner of BirthThe Prodigal DaughterPaths of GloryA Matter of HonorFalse ImpressionThe Eleventh CommandmentSons of FortuneShall We Tell the President?As the Crow FliesTo Cut a Long Story ShortIn the Eye of the Beholder: A Short StoryFirst Among EqualsThe Tumor: A Non-Legal ThrillerThe WhistlerHonor Among ThievesThe Fourth EstateJeffrey Archer Presents: New WifeThe Complete Clifton Chronicles, Books 1-7 Purgatory: A Prison Diary Volume 2And Thereby Hangs a Tale