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)