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The Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Baronsby Edward J., Jr. Renehan
Synopses & Reviews
Jay Gould was the robber baron's robber baron: the greatest financial and business genius of his time and also the most widely hated. He could go head-to-head with the likes of J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the U.S. Treasury and almost always outsmart them.
Gould was the undisputed master of the nation's railroads and telegraph systems at a time when these were the fastest-growing new technologies of the age. His scheme to corner the gold market in 1869 caused the Black Friday panic. He created new ways of manipulating markets, assembling capital and swallowing his competitors. Many of these methods are now standard practice; others were unique to their circumstances and unrepeatable; others were among the first practices prohibited by the SEC when it came into being in the 1930s.
Acclaimed biographer Edward J. Renehan, Jr., recounts the dazzling life story of a figure whose statute in his era outranks that of Bill Gates, in a time when a corporate takeover battle was literally a battle, involving not just lawyers and bankers but the buying and selling of judges and occasional confrontations between gangs of armed thugs. Renehan combines lively anecdotes with the rich social tapestry of the Gilded Age to create the first balanced biography of a man who was undoubtedly the greatest financial genius of his age — and one of the inventors of modern business.
"In the late 19th century, strong and well-moneyed families such as the Morgans and the Vanderbilts controlled the fortunes of Wall Street and the emerging industries. Renehan, author of splendid biographies of the Kennedys, Theodore Roosevelt and the naturalist John Burroughs, turns in a masterful glance at the social history of the Gilded Age as well as a brilliant biography of Gould, who outfoxed many of these other wealthy industrialists to win fame and fortune. Although his early work as a surveyor and a tanner did not bring Gould much wealth, he learned to engage in shrewd business practices that would eventually allow him to gain some dominance in the tanning industry. Wall Street and the newly emerging rail industries soon attracted his financial eye, and he turned his full attention to them. While he initially dabbled at the edges of the stock market, he picked up enough financial savvy to engineer a scheme to corner the gold market in 1869 and cause the infamous Black Friday frenzy. Renehan deftly chronicles Gould's canny financial successes in the acquisitions of the Erie, the Union and Pacific, and the Atlantic and Pacific railroads as well as the emerging telegraph industry. Maligned by his competitors and the media as an unscrupulous businessman, Gould never achieved the fame and status of Cornelius Vanderbilt or J.P. Morgan. Yet, as Renehan points out so gracefully, Gould was simply an ambitious financier in an ambitious time before the existence of regulations that his own financial deals helped create. Renehan's sumptuous prose and his dazzling research and style provide a window into Gould's ambitions and offer a first-rate social history of the financial workings of his time. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A]n informative and entertaining account of no-holds-barred finance in the late 19th century....In an era that vilifies monopolies and market manipulation, Gould's story is an important reminder that full-contact capitalism, driven by unadulterated avarice, built this country's physical and financial infrastructure." Forbes
"[A] primer for our own dark age of business leaders....Renehan's dead-on biography is proof it happened before, and, if anything, Gould was better at it than the current collection of fraudsters." Bloomberg
"Edward J. Renehan has brought to life the multi-faceted Jay Gould like nobody else before him. Dark Genius of Wall Street is a sensitive, well-written, thoroughly engaging portrait of the Gilded Age's most colorful robber baron." Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization
"Dark Genius of Wall Street is a masterwork — entertaining, readable, and informative — by one of America's leading biographers. In our new Gilded Age of technological and financial transformation, this comprehensive reexamination of the most brilliant and enigmatic of all the robber barons could not be more timely." James Strock, author of Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership and Reagan on Leadership
"Mr. Renehan's spirited argument is at least partly convincing, although...he leans a little too heavily on the fond testimony of family members and devoted employees." New York Times
"Those who argue that...regulations are outmoded and unnecessary today may find Dark Genius of Wall Street uncomfortable reading." Washington Post
"[A]fter the first 150 pages it's hard to savor Gould's redeeming qualities — apart from his sheer genius as a predatory speculator and political corruptor." San Diego Union-Tribune
Renehan combines lively anecdotes with the rich social tapestry of the Gilded Age to create the first balanced biography of Jay Gould, undoubtedly the greatest financial genius of his age — and one of the inventors of modern business.
About the Author
Edward J. Renehan, Jr. is the author of several books including The Kennedys at War, The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and his Family at Peace and War, The Secret Six, and John Burroughs: An American Naturalist. Renehan contributes to such publications as American Heritage and has appeared on C-SPAN, The History Channel, and PBS. He lives in North Kingstown, RI, with his wife and two children.
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