Wall Street, the capital of capital, is a strange place full of strange individuals where anything can happen.
That’s about as much thesis as financial journalist Weiner offers in this entertaining oral history of the place, but that’s as much thesis as anyone needs—for, as esteemed economist John Kenneth Galbraith remarks, “Don’t listen to anything these people say. Just be guided by history.” The dozens of players who figure here—David Rockefeller, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Lewis, among them—offer first–person accounts that shed light on the emergence of the market we know today. A great deal of what Wall Street has become can be traced back to Charles Merrill, founder of Merrill Lynch, of whom Weiner observes, “If you had to name the one person in the last hundred years who was most responsible for bringing individual investors to Wall Street, your list of candidates would have to begin with Charles Merrill.” Many of the experts interviewed here agree. Another key architect is Warren Buffett, who steadily built an investment network cum empire by playing stocks that were undervalued; says a Buffett confidant, “That’s the time to buy and safely go to sleep at night, not worry.” Reagan advisor Donald Regan made contributions, too. Weiner’s study recalls how dismal the modern market looked in its infancy, especially around the time of the Vietnam War. He says that the “greatest bull market in the history of Wall Street” began in 1982. It’s when the expansion really began—and not, as so many suggest, in the Clinton era. This oral history offers object lessons from the past and plenty of warnings for the squeamish, as evidenced in fund manager Ian Weinberg’s point that the stock market can come tumbling down at any moment—and that the individual investors whom Merrill courted really don’t know anything.
Bracing, informative and always interesting reading for investors and their advisors, who, to trust Galbraith, don’t know much of anything, either.