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Wall Street

Wall Street: America's Dream Palace

Steve Fraser
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Wall Street
    Book Description:

    Wall Street: no other place on earth is so singularly identified with money and the power of money. And no other American institution has inspired such deep moral, cultural, and political ambivalence. Is the Street an unbreachable bulwark defending commercial order? Or is it a center of mad ambition?

    This book recounts the colorful history of America's love-hate relationship with Wall Street. Steve Fraser frames his fascinating analysis around the roles of four iconic Wall Street types-the aristocrat, the confidence man, the hero, and the immoralist-all recurring figures who yield surprising insights about how the nation has wrestled, and still wrestles, with fundamental questions of wealth and work, democracy and elitism, greed and salvation. Spanning the years from the first Wall Street panic of 1792 to the bubble-and-bust and Enron scandals of our own time, the book is full of stories and portraits of such larger-than-life figures as J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Michael Milken. Fraser considers the conflicting attitudes of ordinary Americans toward the Street and concludes with a brief rumination on the recent notion of Wall Street as a haven for Everyman.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14508-3
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[vii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Wall Street. No other place on earth is so singularly identified with money and the power of money. Wall Street is not a street; it is “the Street.” To invoke its name is to conjure up capitalism in all its imperial grandeur. It stands as an unbreachable bulwark defending a commercial order that began when the nation was born. The Street gives off an incandescent glow fired not simply by wealth but by wealth burnished with a patina of prudential sobriety and social preeminence. Deliberation and caution mark its weighty proceedings. Inside its monumental piles of granite, steel, and glass,...

  4. ONE The Aristocrat
    (pp. 11-53)

    William Duer was running for his life. An enraged mob was chasing him through the streets of New York. If they caught up with him they would beat him to a pulp . . . or worse. Luckily for Duer the sheriff got there first. While his pursuers cried, “We will have Mr. Duer, he has gotten our money,” he was hauled off to jail, where he would spend his few remaining years. Once a man of distinction and wealth, William Duer was now ruined, left to contemplate what might have been.¹

    The year was 1792, and Wall Street had...

  5. TWO The Confidence Man
    (pp. 55-95)

    Mark Twain once described a mine as “a hole in the ground with a liar standing next to it,” which neatly summed up his attitude toward Wall Street: it was not to be trusted. And as a matter of fact, just around the time Twain voiced his cynicism about the country’s penchant for financial high-jinks in his first best-selling novel,The Gilded Age,written with Charles Dudley Warner, newspaper readers everywhere were mesmerized by the story of the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872.¹

    Bogus gold and silver mines had been springing up all over the place, but this was the...

  6. THREE The Hero
    (pp. 97-133)

    When “the Commodore,” Cornelius Vanderbilt, died in 1877, the outpouring of grief was exceeded only by the lavishness with which he was eulogized. Flags flew at half-mast at City Hall, at the Stock Exchange, at Grand Central Station, and along the routes of his railroads. Journalists and politicians hailed him as “one of the kings of the earth” and depicted him as an engineering visionary, a manager of operations so vast and complex they required a kind of military genius to master. One British observer who otherwise viewed the world of Wall Street with bottomless contempt, excepted the Commodore, who...

  7. FOUR The Immoralist
    (pp. 135-173)

    Henry Ford was an American folk hero. He was singularly identified with the country’s favorite new technology, the automobile. But it was his character, even more than his inventive or organizational genius, that most endeared him to his fellow countrymen. Ford seemed a living embodiment of virtues considered quintessentially American and responsible for the nation’s extraordinary good fortune. He hailed from small-town, rural America, where hard work, frugality, modesty in dress and deportment, a practical-minded affinity for the mechanical arts, piety, and self-reliance were first nourished and still commanded respect. Ford never strayed far from those roots; indeed, as his...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 175-180)

    Wall Street has been around for two centuries. (The street itself goes back to the founding days of Dutch colonial New York in the early 1600s, when it included a wooden wall to ward off the British, but the financial center began in the era of the American Revolution.) For most of those two hundred years there has been a great distance separating the Street from the American people. That gulf was political, social, and cultural all at once. The apparitions that attached themselves to Wall Street vividly captured this sense that the Street was the habitat of the abnormal....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 181-192)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 193-194)
  11. Index
    (pp. 195-200)