Rags to riches

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For other uses, see Rags to riches (disambiguation).

Rags to riches refers to any situation in which a person rises from poverty to wealth, and in some cases from obscurity to fame—sometimes instantly. This is a common archetype in literature and popular culture (for example, the writings of Horatio Alger, Jr.).


The concept of "Rags to riches" has been criticised by social reformers, revolutionaries, essayists and statisticians, who argue that only a handful of exceptionally capable and/or mainly lucky persons are actually able to travel the "rags to riches" road, being the great publicity given to such cases a natural Survivorship bias illusion,[1] which help keep the masses of the working class and the working poor in line, preventing them from agitating for an overall collective change in the direction of social equality.[2][3]

Pre-20th-century fictional examples[edit]

Historical examples[edit]

  • The Roman Emperor Diocletian, born in poverty and whose father was a former slave (by some sources, the emperor himself was born in slavery) [1].
  • Genghis Khan, who was homeless with just his mother and his siblings. He went on to create the largest land empire in history.
  • Pope Leo III was of commoner origin and attained the high position in spite of violent opposition from the nobility, who considered the papacy as their preserve.
  • Pope Gregory VII, Hildebrand, was a commoner, perhaps the son of a blacksmith. His bad reputation was partially due to horror at his high social mobility.
  • Chandragupta Maurya of India, who from a humble beginning founded the Maurya Empire.
  • China's Hongwu Emperor and Emperor Gaozu of Han, who were born into peasant families, but eventually founded two of the nation's most illustrious imperial dynasties.
  • Nader Shah, founder of the Afsharid dynasty, was the orphaned son of a goat-herder who established the most powerful empire in modern Persian history.
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a famous example in modern times, helped unify pre-modern Japan.

Modern times[edit]


The following people went from poverty to riches:

Use in art and media[edit]

T.V. & Films[edit]

Computer gaming[edit]




  • A term used in many team sports when a team goes from a poor finishing position one season to a strong finishing position the following season.[10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taleb, 2001. "Part II: Monkeys on typewriters; Survivorship and other Biases"
  2. ^ Peña, 2012. Chapter 5 "From Rags to Riches"
  3. ^ Weiss, 1969. P.35
  4. ^ a b c i100 staff. article. published by The Independent 2014. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Huffington Post. article. published by Huffington Post January 14th, 2013. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  6. ^ Imbd - bio [Retrieved 2015-12-06]
  7. ^ Data-page published by Forbes magazine magazine December 6, 2015 [Retrieved 2015-12-06]
  8. ^ The Pursuit of Happyness - Rotten Tomatoes
  9. ^ Suskin, Steven (2010). Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway's Major Composers (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-19-531407-6. 
  10. ^ Roosters storm into NRL grand final - www.smh.com.au

External links[edit]