Book Review: Bookkeeping Exercises

Bookkeeping Exercises:  Developing The Principles Of Debits And Credits, Recording Transactions, The Trial Balance, Balance Sheet, Statement Of Profit And Loss, And Ledger Closing:  For Beginning Bookkeeping Students, by South-Western Publishing Company

Published nearly a century ago in 1921, this book lives up to its title.  This is by no means a literary book, and few people will read it for any kind of literary pleasure.  Nevertheless, this is a book that is worthwhile from a historical perspective, in that it shows what sort of self-education efforts [1] were available to people beginning their work in business.  If you were a reasonably hard-working and modestly talented person from an ordinary background who did not have the chance to go to college but were able to read and write and had a strong sense of organization and attention to detail and wanted to find respectable work in a retail or other sort of business context, this is the sort of book that would have been a guide to developing the thinking needed to get an entry-level bookkeeping job.  This is the sort of book that was meant to give beginning employees the skills they needed to do work, and on that level this book is worthwhile today for historians who deal with business culture as part of their studies.

In terms of its contents, this book has very straightforward materials.  The first chapter of the book gives a list of definitions about bookkeeping and accounting, which includes the obvious truism that “a business is organized and operated in order that the owner may make a profit, and thus to enable him to purchase from others the material or services which his business does not provide (4).”  Some people forget these basics even now.  The second chapter contains a discussion on recording transactions, and the third through fifth chapters continue this discussion looking at special accounts and extending and receiving credit in one’s operations.  Most of the chapters of this book contain exercises and all chapters contain a list of questions at the end that are meant to spur the reader to thinking out the implications of business activities for themselves.  The total contents of this book come out to 60 pages, making this a very undemanding read in terms of its length, though considerably more demanding in terms of its contents.  One can imagine many readers burning the midnight oil to study the basics of this book before seeking more demanding texts or seeking to improve their own business prospects.

Nowadays, of course, people use software to perform the tasks of bookkeeping that used to be done on ledger paper.  Why would someone who is not fond of antiquarian books and obsolete business technology be interested in a book like this?  For one, it is useful to know how accounting software works, at least to understand that credit and debit mean different things in different accounts and that one’s ledgers have to line up.  The uneducated shop boys and shop girls who read this book and studied its principles were far more aware about the business of the world than contemporary college graduates.  If you read this book and pay attention to its contents you have an idea about how a business operates on its basic cash flow level, and that knowledge alone would make one smarter than the vast majority of people who work on all levels of a business.  Particularly bright readers may even look at their own personal behavior as a business firm in which activities are done for some sort of profit or benefit.  Even if we use computers nowadays to run the accounts, it is still worthwhile to know what one’s books should look like, and how one should think about business affairs in one’s own life.  There is a lot that this book has that is still of value today, for whose who want to learn it.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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