A captivating if necessarily fragmented look at an American institution. (50 b&w illustrations)

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EYEWITNESS TO WALL STREET

FOUR HUNDRED YEARS OF DREAMERS, SCHEMERS, BUSTS, AND BOOMS

Essays, excerpts, snippets, and snapshots of the Street, from 1670 to 2000.

Colbert presents the third of his “eyewitness” volumes (Eyewitness to the American West, 1998, etc.), and again offers a large chorus of voices (more than 80) singing about Wall Street with useful commentary by the editor. The performers range from Andrew Jackson (closing the Second Bank of the United States) to Andrew Carnegie (lining up investors for a bridge) to Charlie Chaplin (selling Liberty Bonds) to Christopher Buckley and Art Buchwald (waxing wise on investment vagaries) to Louis Rukeyser (providing the last words: “It’s just your money, not your life”). So many are the soloists that Colbert sometimes loses track of who’s sung what, so a cute quotation from H.G. Wells appears thrice. And readers may wonder why two personal essays by a journalist-cum-online-trader get nine pages, while the Crash of 1929 gets only four. Still, there is as much fascination as information here. A 1670 visitor noted Wall Street’s prominent gallows and whipping post—items perhaps once again needed, to judge from the accounts of the dark doings of Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky (few of the excerpts here are creepier than the transcript of Boesky’s 1990 testimony). An observer of Street-types during the Panic of 1857 noted a still-familiar sight in times of stock-stress: “People's faces in Wall Street look fearfully gaunt and desperate.” More amusing is a little piece by Harpo (not Karl) Marx about accepting investment tips from an elevator operator, and there is an especially eerie news item concerning the bombing of Morgan Bank on September 16, 1920: the bomber left a horse-drawn cart filled with explosives in front of the bank. And in his introduction of pioneer Muriel Siebert, Colbert cracks, “Wall Street was never an exclusive men’s club; it was a locker room.”

A captivating if necessarily fragmented look at an American institution. (50 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: May 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-7679-0660-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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