This book took quite a bit of effort to get
through. Although I understand the importance of investing for the future,
the actual specifics of stocks, bonds, securities, etc, bore the pants off
me. The minutiae of brokering and trading holds no appeal to me, much to
the chagrin of my wife.
Oxford University Press, 404 pp, 1997
However, I am a history buff, and I read
this book with the hope it would shed some light on a subject I know next
to nothing about. I hoped to read of the great characters who made their
fortunes on the Street, and in many cases lost them. I was also curious as
to how Wall Street got its start, its name, and its practices.
Unfortunately, Charles Geisst, a
Professor of Finance in the School of Business at Manhattan College,
doesnít write with much flair or sizzle. Good history books come alive
and read almost like a novel, such as Stephen Ambroseís Undaunted
Courage and Arthur
New World. While informative, the book was rather boring
and very slow. Add to that Geisstís use of investment jargon that
novices (such as myself) donít understand, and the result is a
ponderous, textbook-like history book.
However, I did found out how Wall Street
got its name. The street was originally a thoroughfare that ran beside a
wall designed to protect lower Manhattan from unfriendly Indians. The
original investors met in the street, outdoors, to trade and bargain.
Geisst traces the history of Wall Street
from 1790 through 1996, covering the major players such as William Duer,
judge, member of the Continental Congress, and signer of the Articles of
Confederation. After making a quick fortune in land speculation, he landed
in debtorís prison, bankrupt. A close friend of Alexander Hamilton, who
at one point intervened in his behalf, he was perhaps the first celebrity
merchant. Duer, before his fall, moved in the most fashionable and
influential circles. He was a portent of the Goulds, Cookes and Morgans
yet to come.
Geisst covers the so-called robber
barons, Wall Streetís reaction to New Deal regulations, and generally
laments the lack of government oversight over Wall Street for much of its
history. While he goes into great, mind-numbing detail of the inner
machinations and nefarious deals, he neglects to mention how great the
country was doing during this time. He leaves the impression that Wall
Street is a hidden, exclusive bastion of greed and corruption, untouched
by the outside world. He blames Wall Street for the Great Depression and
other recessions, but gives it little credit for the unprecedented
creation of wealth that has made the U.S. the richest nation in history.
Shockingly, he completely ignores the rise of the investor class in recent
years, some 50 million Americans who now own their own piece of the Street
through 401(k)ís, IRAís, etc.
Despite the bookís faults, and
tediousness, Iím glad I read it. Any Wall Street buff would enjoy it.