Richard O'Connor is not the first biographer of nineteenth century financial wizards whose writings have been tinged with cynical envy, nor will be the last. Something about the lurid, lavish panoply of the Flash Age -- post-Reconstruction and pre-Turn of the Century -- titillates authors and readers alike. Jay Gould, the farmer's son who took the original ""better mousetrap"" to the city, scalped a succession of partners in assorted businesses, bilked a quivering but avid public, and won enduring notoriety as a railroad magnate of unprecedented amorality, is today a stock character in the nation's quasi-fictionalized economic history. Time after time, he ""nimbly skirted the jagged edges of the law"", and played with his friends and adversaries alike as if they were so many billiard balls rolling along a track laid to his own specifications. Yet outside of business hours, he found peace and happiness in marriage and an exemplary family life. Always a gambler in business, his self-control was his imprimatur. Others might panic when the bulls rampaged through the Market; Gould would coolly and quietly join the bears until the dust had settled. Neither political scandals nor mob fury nor social humiliation could dissuade Gould from his unrelenting pursuit of the security that came, in those days, from the acquisition of wealth. He enjoyed the violent excitement of the money game, and, even when he was ill and nearing the end of his life, ""he still could not imagine any finer career for a young man than the cannibalistic frenzies of the Stock Exchange"". Whether creating or destroying, Gould did nothing on a small scale. His intuitively daring achievements and his unscruppulous machinations are like a scarlet thread running through the fabric of his era. 30 half-tones.