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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power: 1653-2000 » User review

Once merely a wall....

  • Jan 17, 2000
I really enjoyed reading this book. It traces the emergence of Wall Street as a world power from 1653 until 2000. In Chapter One, Gordon takes us back in time to the colony of Nieuw Amsterdam. Because its governor, Peter Stuyvesant, feared a land attack from New England, he convinced local merchants to finance the construction of a wall on the town's northern edge. After its construction (of sixteen-foot logs sunk four feet into the ground and sharpened at the top), the city council initially refused to repay the merchants. Only later when Stuyvesant agreed to turn over revenues from the tax on liquor in compensation did the council reluctantly agree. Thus did the town gain a new wall...and a new street as well.

This situation is representative of Gordon's approach to more than 300 years of history. He anchors his reader in a series of historical situations which can often seem dry as dust. Presented by Gordon, they almost come to life. Consider this brief excerpt:

[My book] runs from an economy powered by peasants at their plows to one powered by office workers at their computers; from Galileo's handmade two-inch telescope that could not clearly make out the rings of Saturn, to the Keck Observatory's paired-ten- meter instruments that can see twelve billion light years into space; from a world where news moved at the speed of a horse to one where it moves at the speed of light;. Thus this book is history on the grand scale. And history on such a scale of necessity, largely the history of great men, great themes, and great powers.

As Gordon also notes in the Prologue, like ancient Rome, "Wall Street started small and inconsequential, utterly unnoticed by the mighty of the earth....And like the story of Rome, Wall Street's story is a story worth telling. For like the Romans, the players of the great game were (and are) great, petty, loathsome, smart, brainless, selfish, generous, and always, always human."

There are 15 lively chapters and then an Epilogue in which Gordon describes playing "the great game" as "pursuing our infinite self-interests within the rules of the game." By doing so, "we will continue to move the invisible hand that has made so much of the world so rich." Frankly, I was at first reluctant to read this book. However, I immediately became fascinated by what Gordon shares in the Prologue and then totally caught up in the narrative which follows. Having read it, I understood what Edwin Lefevre (whom Gordon quotes) meant when he once said of that financial center: "The game does not change and neither does human nature."

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Robert Morris ()
Ranked #169
Professionally, I am an independent management consultant who specializes in accelerated executive development and breakthrough high-impact organizational performance. I also review mostly business books … more
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The wall in question was torn down 300 years ago. In the intervening years, the narrow crosstown street in downtown Manhattan where the wall erected by Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant once stood has become the symbol of the New York financial market, and, writes Gordon, "the beating heart of world capitalism." In the prologue to this eloquent and engaging history, Gordon (Hamilton's Blessing) asserts that Wall Street's dominant position in the increasingly global economy makes it as worthy of the label "great power" as any sovereign state. The focus of his text, however, is to explain the twists and turns of fate that allowed New York to grow into the world's preeminent financial power, surpassing the once equally boisterous Philadelphia market in the U.S., and, at the turn of the last century, London in the global marketplace. Gordon weaves the history of the Street into a brisk and captivating narrative peopled with the fascinating characters who have played a part in its history. From Frederick Philipse, who successfully cornered the wampum market in 1666, to William C. Durant, the founder of General Motors, who lost $90 million in seven months in 1920, Gordon brings to life the stories of both famous and forgotten players in the ongoing game of speculation. He offers cogent explanations of how fluctuating politics and developing technology have changed the stakes, shaped the rules and guided the market through boom times and bad. Although bullish on the market's future, ...
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ISBN-10: 0684832879
ISBN-13: 978-0684832876
Author: John Steele Gordon
Publisher: Scribner

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"Once merely a wall...."
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