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.
Daniel Drew was a notorious speculator during Wall Street’s early years, around the time of the Civil War. He earned his notoriety through truly stunning feats of insider trading, book cooking, and a ruthless disregard for the public interest.
Americans, who have just lived through the greatest series of Wall Street scandals since the crash of 1929, would find him a familiar figure.
Drew, who came from humble beginnings, once reportedly said about his colorful career on the Street, “It seems like a dream to me.”
Every Man a Speculator is about dreams and about nightmares, too. It is not, however, so much about the reveries of people like Drew, those men (and they were almost exclusively men) who rose to fame and fortune or infamy and ruin by trafficking in the mysteries of the Street.
There already exists a sizable library of books about them. We will now and again come face-to-face with these men and their fantasies. But Every Man a Speculator is rather mainly about the rest of us.
It tries to tell the two-hundred-year-old story of how Wall Street has inspired dreams and nightmares deep inside American culture, leaving its imprint on the lives of ordinary as well as some extraordinary people.
Those popular images and metaphors, those visions and anxieties and desires that have attached themselves to the Street, can reveal something fundamental about its history, about its place in the national saga.
They can also tell us something not only about the mind of Wall Street, but, more intriguing and rare, something about the Wall Streets of the American mind.
Examining how Wall Street has entered into the lives of generations long passed and those alive today is both a probe into the American character and an inquiry into the way the character of America has changed.
But this is tricky terrain. The notion of a singular American character, a profile that captures a set of universally applicable traits, mental states, and behaviors is an elusive and dubious one at best. So, too, is the idea that the nation in all its polymorphous diversity can nonetheless be assigned a distinctive and unitary character.
The United States is emphatically a country whose profound heterogeneity has been in some sense its very reason for being. So there have always been multiple American “characters,” many Wall Streets of the mind.
Still, all the satiric cartoons and magazine exposés, the occasional hit movies and Broadway plays, the highbrow novels along with the potboilers and the folk poetry, the political jeremiads and hellfire and brimstone sermons, all the Horatio Alger inspirational storybooks and hero-worshipping biographies, the memoirs of daring-do and irretrievable loss, the visions of imperial grandeur and masculine prowess, do make Wall Street a window into the souls of Americans.
By traveling down those Wall Streets of the American mind, we encounter more than the Street itself. It becomes the terrain on which people have wrestled with ancestral attitudes and beliefs about work and play, about democracy and capitalism, about wealth, freedom and equality, about God and mammon, about heroes and villains, about luck and sexuality, about national purpose and economic well-being.
Part One: BUCCANEERS AND CONFIDENCE MEN ON THE FINANCIAL FRONTIER
- 1. Revolution and Counterrevolution
- 2Monsters, Aristocrats, and Confidence Men
- 3. From Confidence Man to Colossus
- 4. Wall Street in Coventry
Part Two: THE IMPERIAL AGE
- 5. The Engine Room of Corporate Capitalism
- 6. The Great Satan
- 7. Wall Street and the Decline of Western Civilization
- 8. Wall Street Is Dead! Long Live Wall Street!
- 9. Other People’s Money
- 10. War and Peace on Wall Street
- 11. A Season in Utopia
Part Three: THE AGE OF IGNOMINY
- 12. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
- 13. Evicted from the Temple
- 14. The Long Good-bye
Part Four: THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
- 15. The Return of the Repressed
- 16. Shareholder Nation