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Hetty: The Genius and Madness of America's First Female Tycoon Paperback – November 1, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hetty Green (1835-1916) was the only woman to make her mark in the financial markets during the Guilded Age of the late 1800s. She parlayed an inheritance of $500,000 into $100 million ($2.5 billion in current money), amassing fortunes in U.S. bonds and real estate through impeccable timing. Immortalized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "world's greatest miser," she kept her family living in modest tenements, dressed in drab clothes, and was a notorious penny-pincher. Dubbed the "Witch of Wall Street," she was widely believed to live an unhappy existence despite her riches. Slack's account reveals a much more multidimensional character than Green was popularly believed to be; yes, she was eccentric, but her wry wit and colorful personality bring humor and pathos to this story. She was unfairly vilified because of her sex, and readers cannot help from cheering for her at every turn. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“[An] instructive account…. Slack offers an exemplary retelling for a new generation.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Slack concentrates on telling a good story and telling it well.... [An] entertaining biography.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A wonderfully detailed new biography.” (Forbes)

“[A] page-turning portrait of an important and complicated woman.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

“[A] nuanced portrait.” (Newsweek)

“A fascinating book.” (New York Post)

“Fascinating.” (Tucson Citizen)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060542578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060542573
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.7 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Hetty Green was an outsider, a woman in the man's world of Wall Street in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries who was estimated to be worth $100m at the time of her death, or over $1.5bn in today's money.

Hetty became incredibly wealthy by following the "buy low, sell high" rule ruthlessly in real estate, bonds, and stocks. She is remembered as a miser, pedant, and grouch but this reflects the prevailing attitude of the times, where a woman doing the "dirty" work of investing and wealth creation was generally looked down upon.

This short and tidy synopsis of Hetty's life and times makes for great reading, covering the period 1830 to around 1920. The book seems very balanced, finding much good to say about Hetty but she is not idolized and her rough demeanor and pushy personality are evident. After reading this, I am convinced that Warren Buffett would have found her a very tough competitor.
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Format: Hardcover
Having thoroughly enjoyed Charles Slack's marvelous 2003 offering "Noble Obsession: Charles Goodyear, Thomas Hancock, and the Race to Unlock The Greatest Industrial Secret of the Nineteeth Century", I was eager to read "Hetty" despite the fact that I had never even heard of her. She is a largely forgotten figure in American history. In his "Acknowlegements" at the end of the book, author Charles Slack recalls that he embarked on this project at the urging of his mother despite the fact that at the outset "I only had the vaguest idea of who she was talking about."

Hetty Green was the daughter of Edward Mott Robinson of New Bedford, Mass. Robinson made his fortune in whaling and his daughter Hetty exhibited a keen interest in business from a very early age. This was highly unusual for a young girl in those days but Hetty was determined to follow in her fathers footsteps. Hetty was raised a Quaker and as such she did not believe in showering herself with luxuries. Rather, she spent virtually her entire life scrimping and saving. This was certainly not necessary because Hetty Green would become by all accounts the richest woman in the world. She owned dozens of buildings in New York, Boston, Chicago and St.Louis. She owned warehouses and gold mines and was also a major player in the emerging railroad industry. She would be a force to be reckoned with on the American financial scene for more than half a century. And you did not cross Hetty Green as her archrival, the legendary industrialist Collis P. Huntington, would discover early on. At the time of her passing in 1916, her empire was conservatively estimated to be valued at more than $100.000.000!!!

Charles Slack is a marvelous storyteller.
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Format: Hardcover
I would make this book required reading for students of American History. One single page can interest the reader to do more research. For instance, the whaling industry in the 1830's, historical homes to visit, a view of Wall Street so long ago...

The writing is excellent and I am an avid reader of biographies. I am also a daughter of a Wall Street stock broker. I had heard of the infamous Hetty Green; the "Witch of Wall Street". And to think.. someone finally wrote a book...WOW!

I grabbed the book off the shelf at Barnes & Noble and was not dissappointed. Excellent writing. So well written.. Three cheers for the author. I am grateful that somone wrote a book on this incredible woman. Now I know more about her. Facinating...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hetty Green was heir to a fortune but what she did with that inheritance is a significant example of capitalism run amok during the late 19th, early 20th centuries. She turned that modest inheritance into hundreds of millions of dollars. Had she been a man, in my opinion, she would have come to us--through the decades--as powerful a name as Morgan, Carnegie or Rockefeller. Instead, she is remembered, if she is remembered at all, as an eccentric old lady, at best, and a ruthless miser, at worst.

Thankfully, Charles Slack's HETTY, The Genius and Madness of America's First Female Tycoon offers us a look at the woman beneath the austere black dresses. At times ruthless, at times vindictive, Hetty Green could also be compassionate and sentimental. While she was not exactly an ideal wife or mother, her husband and children never villified her; in fact her children, in public at least, only said kind words for her (even though her son could have legitimately accused her of costing him his leg).

What ultimately comes across though is a strong, looming sense of loneliness. To me, she seemed isolated as a child, isolated as a young adult, and in later years, as isolated as her Aunt Sylvia. In the end, money couldn't buy her love. It couldn't even pay for a friend. Charles Slack, however, doesn't want you to think of this as some sort of penance. She was surrounded by what little family was left, and by his account, left this world peacefully. Mr. Slack actually makes it seem she preferred it that way. And I believe he's right. This was a fascinating biography of a woman who deserved one.
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Format: Hardcover
Slack has given us the first cut of a remarkable life.

How many biographies exist for John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould and the others? This book opens up a whole new unexplored territory. Stack provides a platform for future biographers and their field is fertile.

Why was Hettie forgotten? Was it lack of self-memorialization in libraries and museums? Wrong gender? No progeny to carry the name/flame? No Newport mansion for tourists to visit?

What made her tick? The distant father? The need to succeed/prove? Protestant ethic? Loneliness?

What of Mr. Green, a man so adventurous in early life? How did he FEEL when his wife so publically demonstrated her financial independance (in Victorian America)? What did he do in the years following this.. and how did he relate to his children?

What of the son who honors his mother in public, leaves Texas to assist her, but marries Mable "Harlot" so soon after his mother's death.

Why has this not been a DocumDrama already?
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