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Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life Paperback – February 7, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006662049X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066620497
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Wall Street is a window into the soul of America and a battleground for a clash of the nation's values. So writes Steve Fraser, author of the epic book Every Man a Speculator. Fraser sets out to chronicle not so much the history of the "Street" itself, but its place in American society. Since the founding of United States, he says, Wall Street has been the place where Americans have wrestled with their beliefs about work and play, democracy and capitalism, gambling and investment, equality and freedom, God and mammon, heroes and villains.

This is an ambitious, fascinating tale peopled with infamous confidence men, cold-hearted fraudsters, and ruined speculators, through whose eyes Fraser tells virtually an alternative history of America. The 721-page book starts with William Duer, the country's original market swindler, who manipulated government bonds after the Revolution and died in debtors' prison. Duer's frauds left a deep suspicion of Wall Street among many of America's Founding Fathers and the general public. That suspicion only intensified, Fraser writes, after the panic of 1873, which Mark Twain satirized in his novel The Gilded Age, and the 1929 crash, after which Wall Street came under public supervision for the first time. After World War II, the Street staged a remarkable turnaround, as its "wise men" became key figures behind the Marshall Plan, NATO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Today, despite the dot-com crash and corporate-fraud scandals, Fraser writes that Wall Street has still managed to retain a positive image in America's new "shareholder society." But he concludes on a dark tone expressing concerns about "gathering thunderclouds of world economic disturbance." He warns that any future market crash could plunge the Street back into disgrace while also reviving the political extremism and fascism of the 1930s. Fraser's elegantly written book manages to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. --Alex Roslin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Tracking the changing—and often conflicting—public attitudes toward Wall Street through myriad forms of American popular culture, Fraser (Labor Will Rule) renders two centuries' worth of opinions, and shows how the country's orientation toward "the street that runs from a river to a graveyard" has affected the nation's politics, its fashion and its morality. Fraser uses a wealth of primary and secondary sources (from the Constitution of the New York Stock Exchange and Walt Whitman to Kevin Phillips's Wealth and Democracy) to detail the first hundred years, from the Buttonwood Tree trading of 1792 (where 24 men gathered near 68 Wall Street) to J.P. Morgan. His selections from the last quarter-century result in a narrow and not very coherent opinion piece on the tech boom; the strength of the book is the period from 1890 to 1980. Fraser draws on cartoons, popular songs, promotional literature as well as more conventional material to sketch hundreds of stories detailing the image of Wall Street as it rises and falls in the public imagination. Almost every page contains wildly mixed metaphors and other excesses of enthusiasm over clarity, but Fraser tells a monumental story with real energy: moral disapproval of usury, gambling and single-minded moneymaking fade as bankers come to embody the hope and threat of the future. Careful consideration of subtle changes in popular notions makes good sense of the transformation from Gilded Age to Information Age, and of the complex conflicts many people still feel. (Feb. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Steve Fraser writes in clear, vivid, and energetic prose. His passion for the story he tells is easy to see on every page of this big book. It moves along and keeps the reader turning pages to see what happens next. That really is not all that easy to pull off in writing history.

"Every Man a Speculator" is subtitled "A History of Wall Street in American Life". Some subtitles are throwaways. However, this subtitle actually tells you more about the focus of the book than the main title. This is more about the history of public perception of Wall Street. Mr. Fraser is especially strong in telling us about novels, plays, magazine series, and eventually about movies and other popular notions about Wall Street.

The book does not provide any analysis of how Wall Street works and seems to casually dismiss academic models as simply intellectual opinions rather than providing analysis of their merits or deficiencies. The book focuses on so many scandals over the centuries and the characters that caused them that the reader would be hard pressed to understand that anything other than bad actors and suckers ever bought or sold anything in the financial markets. This is, of course, not true. But since the focus of the book is more about the perception of Wall Street in American life, well, maybe there is more merit in the approach taken here.

However, I think the modern reader could benefit from a deeper and more considered approach. This book can certainly stand as a needed corrective for all the rah-rah boosterism that Wall Street has received for the past couple of decades. However, six hundred pages of one perp-walk after another can distort reality as well, no matter how much fun scandal and malfeasance-meeting-comeuppance can be.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Craig L. Howe on March 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In July, 1849, the arrest of a local confidence man attracted national media attention.

It seems the con artist, one William Thompson, genteelly dressed would approach his marks discreetly flashing a handful of cash. He would confide to the mark that he intended to invest the bundle in a sure fire business deal. He offered to invest the mark's cash in the same deal if he would demonstrate confidence in the deal by pleading his money and gold watch. Thompson promised to return the next day with the watch and even more cash.

Of course, he never did.

Throughout history, Americans have held ambivalent views of Wall Street. One moment they see it as one huge casino. The next, they see it as a cloister of scholarly seers who possess a mystical secret for instant success.

Steve Fraser has written a Wall Street history that explores that dilemma's impact on the American psyche. Americans remain preoccupied with the sins and virtues of the financial markets. On one hand they remain committed to their ancestral values of hard work, play, equality, well-being and national purpose. Yet, they are still magnetically drawn to promises of instant wealth and success.

This well-written, thoroughly researched history explores this chronic tension. Through the colorful tales of confidence men and aristocrats, he offers the reader unique insights into our collective view of American Capitalism and its changing culture.
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Format: Paperback
Mr. Fraser has written a detailed and intimately researched tomb covering the history of Wall Street back to its earliest beginnings. This book is similar in theme to Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises (Wiley Investment Classics), Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation, andExtraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Here is what distinguishes Mr. Fraser's book:

- The focus on solely the American Experience, as opposed to including European.

- The period of history covered is much greater than the others. Mr. Fraser begins with a great tale of Alexander Hamiton and Thomas Jefferson. I found this especially valuable and unique.

- A broad focus. The author focuses not only on the financial, but on how Wall Street influenced the arts, popular culture, politics, et al.

I recommend this book if you want a broad, in-depth history of Wall Street. It is the best I have found in covering the pre-1900 period of American finance.

Because the book is a history, it compresses hundreds of years as you read it in a few hours. This allows one to see the boom/bust cycles of Wall Street with clinical detachment. If only we could apply this 20/20 vision to our own period of history!
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By pluto on July 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A person can spend a lifetime attempting to understand the world of finance. Or he can read this book. It puts into perspective all the sludge oozing out of CNBC, Greenspan, Snow and Company, Kudlow and Cramer and, of course, the Mary Meekers who have begun to surface again after, I suppose, a four year vacation on a private island. For those of boundless faith and small capital, it provides a healthy dose of sanity. If you are victimized by excessive wealth and thus forced to protect it by what is called investment but amounts to speculation, read this one along with The Death of Money, by Kurtzman.

In the world of limitless electronic money, the price of any asset is determined solely by crowd psychology. Every time it changes those numbers on the screen go up and down, and for people buying at the asked and selling at the bid it is a tough game.

For those worried about the country as a whole, Fraser explains in language anyone can understand how enterprise has become a bubble on a tide of speculation, returning us to a condition not experienced in America since the Twenties. The same tired arguments for Wall Street hegemony which history exploded in the Thirties have been resurrected by the financial elite and their acolytes in the media and economics profession. Will history repeat itself? Recent crashes have been reversible by massive injections of fiat money. In the absence of political will it is hard to imagine alternative solutions.
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