Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life

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9780066620480: Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life
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For more than two hundred years, Americans have enjoyed a love-hate relationship with Wall Street. Long an object of suspicion and fear, it eventually came to be seen as a more inviting place, an open road to wealth and freedom. Peeling away the layers of myth surrounding this fabled street, Steve Fraser shows that the remarkable transformation of Wall Street as a cultural icon -- its odyssey from perdition to salvation, from darkness into light -- is a story that goes to the heart of the American character.

Long before we became a shareholder nation, back when only a minuscule part of the country's population invested, Wall Street had already provoked America's collective imagination. From the days when Alexander Hamilton was forced to confess his marital infidelities in order to defend his vision of the Republic's financial future, to Gordon Gekko's mantra "Greed is good" in the movie Wall Street, Americans have always been preoccupied with the virtues and sins of the stock market.

Indeed, Wall Street is the place where we have constantly returned to wrestle with our ancestral attitudes about work and play, equality and wealth, God and mammon, heroes and villains, national purpose and economic well-being. Beginning in the Revolutionary era, Every Man a Speculator reveals the extraordinary power of Wall Street and its impact on our democracy; the moral dilemma posed for a society committed to the work ethic yet lured by the promise of instant wealth; and the chronic tension between our native egalitarianism and the forces of social hierarchy unleashed by the Street. In doing so, it spans the ages, from Captain Kidd's sojourn on the Street through the Civil War and Great Depression to the present day, when power brokers stalk the canyons of lower Manhattan speculating on the fate of whole nations.

In Every Man a Speculator, Steve Fraser brings this epic history to life with colorful tales of confidence men and aristocrats, Napoleonic financiers and reckless adventurers, master builders and roguish destroyers, men to the manor born and men from nowhere. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, this is a gripping, powerful chronicle that casts new light on the metamorphosis of our nation's most cherished values.

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Review:

Wall Street is a window into the soul of America and a battleground for a clash of the nation's values. So writes Steve Fraser, author of the epic book Every Man a Speculator. Fraser sets out to chronicle not so much the history of the "Street" itself, but its place in American society. Since the founding of United States, he says, Wall Street has been the place where Americans have wrestled with their beliefs about work and play, democracy and capitalism, gambling and investment, equality and freedom, God and mammon, heroes and villains.

This is an ambitious, fascinating tale peopled with infamous confidence men, cold-hearted fraudsters, and ruined speculators, through whose eyes Fraser tells virtually an alternative history of America. The 721-page book starts with William Duer, the country's original market swindler, who manipulated government bonds after the Revolution and died in debtors' prison. Duer's frauds left a deep suspicion of Wall Street among many of America's Founding Fathers and the general public. That suspicion only intensified, Fraser writes, after the panic of 1873, which Mark Twain satirized in his novel The Gilded Age, and the 1929 crash, after which Wall Street came under public supervision for the first time. After World War II, the Street staged a remarkable turnaround, as its "wise men" became key figures behind the Marshall Plan, NATO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Today, despite the dot-com crash and corporate-fraud scandals, Fraser writes that Wall Street has still managed to retain a positive image in America's new "shareholder society." But he concludes on a dark tone expressing concerns about "gathering thunderclouds of world economic disturbance." He warns that any future market crash could plunge the Street back into disgrace while also reviving the political extremism and fascism of the 1930s. Fraser's elegantly written book manages to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. --Alex Roslin

About the Author:

Steve Fraser is the author of Labor Will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor, which won the Philip Taft Prize for the best book in labor history. He is also the co-editor of The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order. He received his Ph.D. in American history from Rutgers University, and his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, the American Prospect, Raritan, and Dissent. He lives in New York City.

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9780066620497: Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life

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