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When Wall Street Met Main Street: The Quest for an Investors' Democracy Hardcover – May 16, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


A brilliant examination of the origins of our investors' democracy. Ott reveals how participation in financial markets became the embodiment of citizenship. Beautifully written and rigorously researched, she makes clear that our contemporary entanglement with finance is nothing new. (Stephen Mihm, author of A Nation of Counterfeiters)

An excellent and pathbreaking analysis of the struggle to find in "shareholder democracy" a remedy for the inequality and social and political discontent that has troubled American society since the industrial revolution began. (Steve Fraser, author of Every Man a Speculator)

Ott's stunning book provides much needed history to a modern America that takes mutual funds, 401ks, and stock options for granted. With imaginative research, sophisticated analysis, and engaging writing, Ott astutely reveals the benefits and costs of becoming a nation of stockholders. (Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers' Republic)

Julia Ott has written an important book for our times, after a financial crisis has us wondering if our financial markets, in their current form, really promote individual wellbeing as they should. We have to learn from the past, and invent a new and better capitalism for the future. (Robert Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance)

In the 21st century the savings of Americans are highly dependent on returns from stock- market investments that are buffeted by speculation and subject to manipulation by insiders. In this timely and outstanding book, Ott documents how Americans were initially lured into this dependence and provides key insights for understanding why. (William Lazonick, author of Sustainable Prosperity in the New Economy?)

Ott’s account is superb, full of subtle insights and surprising interactions between state actors in desperate need of finance, financiers in desperate need of political legitimacy, and a wide range of private citizens and civil society actors--women’s groups, even labor unions--caught in between. (Jonathan Levy Public Culture 2011-11-22)

Julia Ott has written an informative and insightful study of a surprisingly neglected topic…This brief account cannot do justice to the rich texture of Ott’s argument, which contains a wealth of detail, impressive depth of research, and cogent analysis…Ott has done anyone interested in the history of finance a great service. (Maury Klein Business History Review 2012-10-01)

About the Author

Julia C. Ott is Assistant Professor of History at The New School for Social Research.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (June 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674050657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674050655
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,283,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Julia Ott’s When Wall Street Met Main Street is incredibly well researched and well written book on 20th Century American history and capitalism, with specific regard to the individual investor becoming involved in the financial markets. Her work is captivating as she documents the rocky, deceptive, and unregulated road that investors faced in the nascent stages of our financial markets.

The pressures, often unbelievably harsh and cruel, for hardscrabble citizens to buy bonds war bonds (WWI) are almost hard to believe. Her mastery of the topics covered shows a real labor of love. Professor Ott does a terrific job showing the development of the individual investor. The “Everyman” as she wonderfully puts it. She covers a topic I candidly had never given much thought to – how capitalism can be viewed historically and how it played into our history and the development of the capital markets we have today. Her knowledge of the various theorists of the day is without parallel and a real lesson for even the most serious of readers.

The research that went into When Wall Street Met Main Street is truly stunning. And so well documented that certain readers, myself among them, might well find some really interesting reads in her 67 pages of notes to a 225 page book. Remarkable stuff and a wonderfully valuable book to read and have on one’s bookshelf with other important topics of 20th Century American History and economics/financial market regulation. The New School, a really wonderful place, is lucky to have her on their faculty. I highly recommend reading this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By econtext on December 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a great and important book. The author asks, and answers, the question: what happened that changed the stock market from a place for the wealthy elite, to something that everyday Americans could participate in?

This shift is an important one, in how people viewed the stock market, how they understood investment, and how wall street managed to steal back their legitimacy that they had lost in earlier market crashes.

This book is at its best when it describes government bond drives during WW1 (and their use of propaganda) and the strategies bore out by corporations to reinvent themselves in the public eye (and profit on all the new, naive investors).

Though this book can sometimes be a thick read, it makes for a good rainy day nonfiction; curled up on the couch, its easy to get lost in the details of an amazing and little known history of ourselves, as investors on main street.
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