Exceptional in its chronological sweep from colonial America through the Harding administration, familiar in its debunking tone, this is a tale of speculators, spoilsmen, corrupt arms merchants, and other beneficiaries of the intimate links between commerce, finance, and government which were transplanted to the New World. In lively fashion Miller runs through both notorious and obscure scandals, from officially sponsored piracy to decades of land-grabs to the Teapot Dome. The book distinguishes between an ante-bellum system of free-for-all patronage and the more systematic business-government unity on tariff policy and the like during the later 19th century. Though a simplification, this judgment at least recognizes historical change. The book's basic approach, however, remains a muckraking montage which puts Tammany graft and routine corporate payoffs on the same level as the contractors who actually subverted military defense, or the railroad magnates who were responsible for killing both construction employees and passengers. In effect, overcharging for City Hall carpets is morally equated with national debt refunding swindles in Miller's ""fast buck"" universe--which is, to be sure, an entertaining place. An antidote to Bicentennial hagiography--but mere cheerful cynicism is no substitute for historical analysis.