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Once in Golconda: A True Drama of Wall Street 1920-1938
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Approaching one broker with whom he was on a bad footing, Whitney "made no lame effort to ingratiate himself. Rather he announced brusquely that he 'wanted to get this over with quickly'...Then he said he wanted to borrow $250,000 'on my face.'"
He was denied that time, at least, but Whitney's arrogance was rewarded in other instances. When you were one of Wall Street's aristocrats of the 1920s and 1930s, life was like that.
Whitney is the central character in John Brooks' "Once In Golconda," an absorbing, picaresque account of the New York Stock Exchange's painful coming of age during the Jazz Age and Great Depression. Though there are some patterns watchers of today's stock markets may recognize in this account of the Great Crash of 1929 and its aftermath, some things are probably never to be repeated, probably for the best.
Wall Street in 1929 was a plutocratic fiefdom where might meant right and no one was righter than J.P. Morgan & Co., known by many as "23" for its Wall Street address. But the crash brought anger as it took the rest of the national economy down with it, and in time, calls for reform that the stockbroking elite ignored at their peril. Leading the resistance to change was NYSE President Whitney, who showed great bravery on Black Thursday by placing some stabilizing bids but remained inflexible despite growing demands for needful change.
"Once In Golconda" is a financial history anyone can pick up and enjoy.Read more ›
The book follows the 1920s and 30s stock market from the corner in Stutz stock (on which only people who were long originally gained) to the demise of the aristocratic Richard Whitney.
It could be fiction except that you see the similarities all around.
The description of 1929 is the best I have read. I wish I was there to see Whitney make the most famous bid in all stock exchange history (10 thousand US Steel at 205). I too would have fallen under his spell. And I too would have been shocked and scandalised by his eventual downfall.
Read this and make your judgement. Are you too taken in by the image of today's high flier? Or are you above that? Some people are. I am not sure I am
It is this last point: actions, that makes this narrative is so telling. The Efficient Market Hypothesis and the Capital Asset Pricing Model are narratively defeated in the re-telling of these collected and intertwined tales of (mostly) men taking actions. The actions of these actors are against the tide of humanity, the dispersion of information, and "the market" itself. The collective actions of the hoard that makes up the market are consistently defeated by the single-man of history. But also, the single-man is defeated by the market. This narrative supports the thesis that there is a wide dispersion around the true "value" of traded securities, and those who study history and observe this dispersion can profit from it (beat the market).
This is the story of men great and small (mostly great or infamous) in a time in the history of capitalism when the United States came into prominence and even bootblacks played the market. It shudders on to the catastrophe of the great crash and is absorbing and well-written.
This is an essential book for those who study the history of capital.
Two highlights for me are the passionate defense of short selling by Whitney, and how J.P. Morgan's image was transformed virtually overnight by one very humanizing photograph.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I bought two editions of this book, one I left behind by accident in a jury room. I got off to a slow start perhaps because of distractions but John Brooks is an incredibly good... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Richard M. Rollo
This book is a forgotten classic. The author goes deep into the social fabric and class structure and background of all the key players involved. Read morePublished 7 months ago by VIVEK SHIVDASANI
Anyone reading this entertaining and lively account of Wall Street from 1920-1938 will immediately recognize in each character a counterpart in our times. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jason V. Kilmer
One of the hazards of being human is that emotion tends to overwhelm intellect. In other words, we tend to believe things, or reject beliefs, because said beliefs make us feel... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Stephen M. St Onge
I found this book a couple of years after first reading The Great Crash. I have now read this book for a third time and it is an extremely good companion book to The Great Crash. Read morePublished on January 26, 2014 by David Ecale
This book is phenomenal. It will open your eyes and make you understand some of the ebbs and flows in the market. It's phenomenal.Published on April 21, 2013 by Jeremy Truitt