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What Goes Up: The Uncensored History of Modern Wall Street as Told by the Bankers, Brokers, CEOs, and Scoundrels Who Made It Happen Paperback – July 20, 2007
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About the Author
Eric J. Weiner is a financial journalist and former Wall Street reporter for Dow Jones Newswires. His stories have appeared in countless publications, from The Wall Street Journal to The Village Voice. He lives in Great Barrington, MA., with his wife, Paige.
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Eric J. Weiner's "What Goes Up" traces the history of Wall Street from pre-World War II days to just after 9/11 in mosaic fashion, both by concentrating each chapter on a unique milestone moment and then by spinning out each chapter in the form of quotes, most running several paragraphs, from people who were there.
There are some great quotes, too. "Something I've learned is that every good idea on Wall Street is driven into the ground like a tomato stake," says writer James Grant, in a chapter about the rise of junk bonds. Mutual fund guru Peter Lynch recalls cutting short a rare vacation to Ireland in 1987 when the market suddenly lost a fifth of its value in one day. Jerry Tsai, the Lynch of an earlier day, candidly recalls the heady Go-Go 1960s, while longtime broker Peter Low recalls the guilt of speculating on Vietnam War news.
"It's mean," he says. "If news breaks out that there's a drug epidemic, Wall Street asks 'Who makes the needles?'"
The downside of Weiner's narrative is that it's not especially enlightening, moving as it does so quickly from one soap opera to the next. It doesn't stick with any one of these, like the acquisition of Shearson Loeb Rhoades by American Express or the RJR Nabisco merger later that decade memorialized in "Barbarians At The Gate," long enough to convey much understanding. The connecting narrative is bare, designed not to intrude on the quotes, but as the large cast of characters in each chapter either talk over the same few points or else disagree with one another with Susan Lucci gusto, one misses a central, unifying voice.
I liked Weiner's work with the chapter on "junk-bond king" Michael Milken, especially because that has not only a good selection of quotes but a linear narrative that arrives at a bold conclusion, that being that Milken was essentially laid out for the sins of others. "Milken never did anything wrong," says former Wall Street Journal editor Jude Wanniski. "Nothing."
Milken is quoted as well, but like Sanford Weill, Warren Buffett, and some others, he didn't cooperate with Weiner's book. Rather, Weiner took quotes from other sources and included them in his oral history, properly notated, but still a little awkward. It would have been better had Weiner included those second-hand comments in a beefier narrative framework, and left the long quotes for those who did talk to him, especially since they include some voluble, interesting, and underappreciated figures.
I liked "What Goes Up," but not a lot, and I didn't feel like I learned much of anything I can carry with me. It's a good idea for a book, just not substantive enough for a curious layman like me. That being said, I think a stockbroker or economic history buff will appreciate "What Goes Up" for being a Norton Anthology of famous moments on Wall Street, something to refer to and augment their deeper understanding of what goes up, and on.
However, the style is not my favorite. In essence, the book is a collection of thematic quotes. It isn't a prose dialouge as much as it is a sequence of sometimes disjointed quotes taken from the author's interviews and research on topics and events that shaped Wall Street. While it is great to hear the story from all of the horses' mouths, it isn't a real flowing style and I believe lacks a certain objectivity and entertainment factor that I look for in a book when I read it.
So, this would be a 5 star content, and a 3 star format.
The primary sources provide direct insight to what happened in a very easy to read format. As a survey, the book provides a readers digest version of much of the popular banking literature. (The chapter on leveraged buyouts has just enough detail to allow one to skip Barbarians at the Gate.) Very efficient background material for anyone entering the field.
There are two limitations with the style and direction of the book. By it's nature, the book focuses primarily on New York banking, and misses much of the story of globalization. The other is that by using people's own words, one has to read between the lines to find the real story. Both limitations are unavoidable given the intention and form of the book.
One minor flaw in the book appears to be the attempt to rewrite the history books on Michael Milkin and his junk bond fraud.The evidence is so completely overwhelmingly against Milkin that Jude Wanniski's claim that Milkin was innocent means that Wanniski never figured out the difference between enterprise and speculation in his lifetime.