The great game : the emergence of Wall Street as a world power, 1653-2000 /

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Main Author: Gordon, John Steele.
Format: Book
Published:New York : Scribner, c1999.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The wall in question was torn down 300 years ago. In the intervening years, the narrow crosstown street in downtown Manhattan where the wall erected by Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant once stood has become the symbol of the New York financial market, and, writes Gordon, "the beating heart of world capitalism." In the prologue to this eloquent and engaging history, Gordon (Hamilton's Blessing) asserts that Wall Street's dominant position in the increasingly global economy makes it as worthy of the label "great power" as any sovereign state. The focus of his text, however, is to explain the twists and turns of fate that allowed New York to grow into the world's preeminent financial power, surpassing the once equally boisterous Philadelphia market in the U.S., and, at the turn of the last century, London in the global marketplace. Gordon weaves the history of the Street into a brisk and captivating narrative peopled with the fascinating characters who have played a part in its history. From Frederick Philipse, who successfully cornered the wampum market in 1666, to William C. Durant, the founder of General Motors, who lost $90 million in seven months in 1920, Gordon brings to life the stories of both famous and forgotten players in the ongoing game of speculation. He offers cogent explanations of how fluctuating politics and developing technology have changed the stakes, shaped the rules and guided the market through boom times and bad. Although bullish on the market's future, Gordon cautions that the Street should keep one eye on the past and learn from its own history. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

This sparkling account (the basis for a forthcoming CNBC TV special) finds in Wall Street a remarkable microcosm for American invention, eccentricity, and double-dealing. Compressing centuries of economic arcana and dozens of complicated characters into a concise history is no easy task. But Gordon (Hamilton's Blessing, 1997, not reviewed), an American Heritage business-history columnist and a commentator for PRI's 'Marketplace,' manages to make it all go down smoothly. He shows how from the time of its original Dutch builders, Wall Street assumed a cosmopolitan, commercial character. Opposing this tendency was the Jeffersonian suspicion of any central banking system, leading America's financial markets to rely for their smooth functioning not on the government but on the sense and good will of individual companies. Although this lack of interference permitted the rise of such financial geniuses as 'Commodore' Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, and Charles Merrill, it also gave free rein to Wall Street's classic rogues, including Ivan Boesky, Richard Whitney, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk. (The last two pulled off what Gordon, with ironic grandeur, describes as 'the greatest single act of financial derring-do in the history of the Street.') Gordon discloses how Wall Street was responsible for many major institutions taken for granted in American life, including modern accounting, fast food, and zoning laws. When he's not serving up delicious trivia, Gordon expertly analyzes the trends that spurred Wall Street and consolidated its power. Especially important was technology: the Erie Canal, which sparked business for its brokers; the telegraph, which solidified New York City's place as the nation's financial capital; and computers, which resulted in globalization and the integration of the world's financial markets in the last few decades. Refreshingly free of ideological cant, Gordon happily chastises the excesses of both government micromanagement (leading, for example, to robber barons' bribery of state legislatures) and free-market capitalism (the adored, still unprofitable American business history depicted with infectious delight. (16 pages b&w photos)

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