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]

  • Genghis Khan, who was homeless with just his mother and his siblings. He went on to create the largest land empire in history.
  • 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].
  • 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]


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. ^ Roosters storm into NRL grand final - www.smh.com.au
  5. ^ The Pursuit of Happyness - Rotten Tomatoes

External links[edit]