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Once in Golconda: A True Drama of Wall Street 1920-1938

4.6 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471357537
ISBN-10: 0471357537
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Once in Golconda At noon, on September 16, 1920, a horrendous explosion rocked Wall Street, instantly claiming the lives of thirty pedestrians and seriously injuring hundreds more. Yet, for all of its awesome force, that bomb was a firecracker compared to another, much more spectacular one, several years later—the great stock market crash of 1929. Once in Golconda is a dramatic chronicle of the breathtaking rise, devastating fall, and painstaking rebirth of Wall Street in the years between the wars. Focusing on the lives and fortunes of some of the era’s most memorable traders, bankers, boosters, and frauds, award-winning author John Brooks brings to vivid life all the ruthlessness, greed, derring-do, and reckless euphoria of the ’20s bull market, the desperation of the days leading up to the crash of ’29, and the bitterness of the years that followed. Writing with authority, verve, and considerable humor, Brooks introduces us to a bygone world in which the likes of Junius Morgan and fellow members of the Yankee "aristocracy" jealously controlled Wall Street as if it were their private hunting preserve. He also offers striking portraits of the generation of rawly ambitious newcomers who rose up to topple the old regime, including Irish Catholic "counter jumpers" such as "Sell ’em" Ben Smith and the mercurial Joseph Kennedy who clawed his way up from being one of the most cunning of shady speculators, to first head of the SEC, to king-maker. At the center of this colorful whirlwind of a tale is the magnificently hubristic Richard Whitney. The story of his rise to the presidency of the New York Stock Exchange and his eventual downfall and imprisonment for stock fraud and embezzlement characterizes the play of monumental forces that transformed Wall Street from WASP Camelot to public institution. Though it was first published in 1969, this riveting tale explores timeless themes of profound significance for today’s investors—from the corruption that led to the creation of today’s securities laws to the folly of investor hubris in a bull market.

From the Back Cover

"In this book, John Brooks—who was one of the most elegant of all business writers—perfectly catches the flavor of one of history’s best-known financial dramas: the 1929 crash and its aftershocks. It’s packed with parallels and parables for the modern reader." —Richard Lambert Editor-in-Chief, The Financial Times Praise for Once in Golconda "A fast-moving, sophisticated account … embracing the stock-market boom of the twenties, the crash of 1929, the Depression, and the coming of the New Deal. Its leitmotif is the truly tragic personal history of Richard Whitney, the aristocrat Morgan broker and head of the Stock Exchange, who ended up in Sing Sing." —Edmund Wilson, writing in the New Yorker "As Mr. Brooks tells this tale of dishonor, desperation, and the fall of the mighty, it takes on overtones of Greek tragedy, a king brought down by pride. Whitney’s sordid history has been told before.… But in Mr. Brooks’s hands, the drama becomes freshly shocking." —Wall Street Journal "It’s all there in Once in Golconda: the avarice of an era that favored the rich; and the later anguish of myriads of speculators doomed by a bloated market, easy credit, and their own cupidity and stupidity. The book, which is great reading, has a real message, especially for a generation of speculators that know neither the pangs and privations of a depression nor of blue chip stocks that drop fifty points in a single day’s trading." —Saturday Review "Mr. Brooks has convinced me, absolutely, that Richard Whitney ranks in the highest pantheon of American symbols—like Lincoln and Bryan and Melville and Hemingway and Yellow Kid Weft, Buffalo Bill, and Horatio Alger … and even Babe Ruth. In him, the upper-class con crested—and America’s last chance to do it right the first time ended." —Harper’s
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (September 21, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471357537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471357537
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,564,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bill Slocum VINE VOICE on April 28, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If ego is a drug, Richard Whitney was Wall Street's Tony "Scarface" Montana. More than $27 million in debt and trying to conceal bald-faced embezzlement, the broke stockbroker and former New York Stock Exchange president still managed to carry himself with a smug hauteur as he drew up new IOUs.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very good book.
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
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Format: Paperback
Once in Golconda is a well-written financial history book. The setting is 1920s and 30s Wall Street. The drama centers around Richard Whitney, who falls from grace like the hero in a Greek tragedy. During the '29 crash, Whitney himself (he was president of the NYSE at the time) strode onto the floor of the exchange and bought U.S. Steel (and other blue chips) to temporarily halt the slide. In the aftermath, Whitney literally stole from widows and orphans and was sent to prison. An excellent example of a financial history book that is not dry and unreadable.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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 writer. He draws you into the story gradually and an amazing story it is. The story has several layers, first how the the New York Stock Exchange gradually changed from a private club of the rich elite to a publicly regulated market. In the private club days, although there were rules, the rules enforcement was lax, informal, and personal. Brooks shows that at the center of the transformation of the NYSE, was Richard Whitney, who went to the right schools and belonged to the right clubs. When the crash occurred, he was a bastion of strength whose character and fortitude saved the NYSE. In truth, he was a terrible businessman and worse. His brokerage days ended in Sing Sing. His actions also brought about the final surrender of the brokers to regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. I previously read his "Fate of the Edsel" and "The Go Go Years." Good as they were, "Once in Golconda" is superb. Brooks reflects the talent that made the New Yorker a great magazine back in that era.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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. This helps explain the behaviour of many of the titans of Wall Street. There are many interesting anecdotes. In fact the human stories are more interesting then the financial stories. If you are a stock market investor this book is a must for your library. I personally have a physical as well as a kindle copy.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you've closely followed the ups and downs of the stock market, and the downs (and downs) of the reputation of the financial industry, you will deeply enjoy this. Brooks gives great detail and personalizes the crash of 1929, it's aftermath, and the reaction of the investing public. Eerily familiar to much of the tone of the last few years.

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.
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