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Every Man a Speculator a History of Wallby Steven Fraser
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Tracking the changing — and often conflicting — public attitudes toward Wall Street through myriad forms of American popular culture, Fraser (Labor Will Rule) renders two centuries' worth of opinions, and shows how the country's orientation toward 'the street that runs from a river to a graveyard' has affected the nation's politics, its fashion and its morality. Fraser uses a wealth of primary and secondary sources (from the Constitution of the New York Stock Exchange and Walt Whitman to Kevin Phillips's Wealth and Democracy) to detail the first hundred years, from the Buttonwood Tree trading of 1792 (where 24 men gathered near 68 Wall Street) to J.P. Morgan. His selections from the last quarter-century result in a narrow and not very coherent opinion piece on the tech boom; the strength of the book is the period from 1890 to 1980. Fraser draws on cartoons, popular songs, promotional literature as well as more conventional material to sketch hundreds of stories detailing the image of Wall Street as it rises and falls in the public imagination. Almost every page contains wildly mixed metaphors and other excesses of enthusiasm over clarity, but Fraser tells a monumental story with real energy: moral disapproval of usury, gambling and single-minded moneymaking fade as bankers come to embody the hope and threat of the future. Careful consideration of subtle changes in popular notions makes good sense of the transformation from Gilded Age to Information Age, and of the complex conflicts many people still feel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Comprehensive, considered, and literate: a real accomplishment." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] monumental cultural history of speculation in the United States as played out on the stages of Wall Street....This scholarly and entertaining encyclopedic history documents an important part of U.S. business history." Library Journal
"[T]horoughly researched and compelling." Carlos Lozada, The Christian Science Monitor
"[Fraser] has a keen grasp of his material, and his vivacious style and historical perspective carry us through the tumults." Harold Evans, The New York Times Book Review
Book News Annotation:
Fraser (PhD, American history), the author of Labor Will Rule (1991), traces the history of Wall Street and America's ambivalent relationship with this symbol of capitalism, from the founding fathers' polarized views about speculation to current pop cultures' fixation on the stock market. The "shareholder nation" of course now includes women as well as men.
Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Fraser offers a gripping, panoramic view of the way Wall Street has penetrated every corner of American life, from the era of George Washington to George W. Bush.
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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