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Wall Street: America's Dream Palace (Icons of America) Hardcover – April 22, 2008
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Fraser, historian and author, reviews the complicated love-hate relationship between Americans and the financial markets by using Wall Street as the symbol of money and its power. By identifying four personality types that reappear throughout history, he explores more than 200 years of struggle between wealth and work, democracy and elitism, and greed and salvation. These types include the “pretentious aristocrat,” from the 1792 speculator who was jailed for causing the first crash, to Michael Milken, who was jailed in the 1980s for speculation in junk bonds. Fraser’s “wily confidence-man” category with numerous names tells us that such individuals are ever present in a market society. The “imperial heroes” include Cornelius Vanderbilt and “Jubilee Jim” Fisk—the latter identified as “the Donald Trump of the nineteenth century.” The “immoralist,” the sinner category, includes the Gilded Age’s Jay Gould and the “cascade of financial scandals beginning with Enron.” This is an excellent book that traces the history of Wall Street through those who shaped it, for better or for worse. --Mary Whaley
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Top Customer Reviews
Once you finish reading this brief treatise on the Street, and some of the influential individuals who pushed it in various directions, I think any reader will come away with the idea that perhaps, the stock market is similar to playing Russian Roulette with an automatic. If you have deep pockets and can sustain financial losses with a Douglas Fairbanks laugh, and a cavalier toss of long, carefully-styled hair, then by all means waltz down the center line of the Street.
Mr. Fraser's book gives much information, and lots of invitation to dig further into the mechanism of American finance as it existed prior to this somber and much-sobered post-economic-meltdown environment of the approaching new year and beyond.
For those who know little about the origins of Wall Street Steve Fraser presents a brief history in his Introduction to get us all up to speed. Interestingly enough, this book has only four chapters, each scrutinizing the roles of what Fraser considers to be four iconic Wall Street types including the aristocrat, the confidence man, the hero and the immoralist. In each chapter, Fraser presents vivid portraits of those legendary individuals who for better or for worse have made their mark in the world of high finance. Fraser spotlights such diverse charactors as J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Charles Ponzi and Michael Milken to name but a few. Fraser also discusses at some length how the dot.com boom lured many Americans into the stock market for the very first time and how so many of us were burned by the unscrupulous actions of con men like Michael Milken, corporations like Enron and WorldCom, as well as by a variety of unsavory speculators and day traders.
Overall I found "Wall Street: America's Dream Palace" to be an extremely informative and highly enjoyable read. I enjoy writers with outstanding vocabularies and Steve Fraser can turn a phrase with the best of them. Lots of great information packed into this terrific little book. Highly recommended!
The following quote pretty much sums up the book :" With the active connivance of many of the Street's most powerful investment banks,not just Enron but a slew of major corporations-Tyco,WorldCom,Adelphia,QWest Communications,Arthur Anderson-turned out to be little more than stupendous confidence games designed by top management to defraud the investing public..."(pp.90-91).Of course,large numbers of financial analysts,with their MBA degree training in the Efficient Market Hypothesis telling them that speculative bubbles could not exist,were needed to provide the fig leaf of " economic analysis " to support the constantly rising bubble prices.
I have subtracted away 1/2 of a star because the author is unaware that Adam Smith,back in 1776,had already provided a complete analysis warning his readers of the consequences of allowing unregulated commercial banks from teaming up with speculators to put their " projects " into reality.Smith's conclusion,that all of the savings of the banks' depositors would end up being wasted and destroyed is as true to day in 2009 as it was back in 1776.Keynes's similar conclusion in 1936 in his The General Theory is essentially a more technically and analytically advanced version of Smith's cogent 1776 literary analysis based on Smith's understanding of the Mississippi and South Seas bubbles in the 1719-1721 time period .No one has ever improved in Smith's basic ,fundamental conclusion-the purpose of a central bank is to prevent the private commercial banks from making loans to speculators.An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.America, post 2008,is in for many.many pounds of cure.