Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons


Though reviled for more than a century as Wall Street's greatest villain, Jay Gould was in fact its most original creative genius. Gould was the robber baron's robber baron, the most astute financial and business strategist of his time and also the most widely hated. In Dark Genius of Wall Street, acclaimed biographer Edward J. Renehan, Jr., combines lively anecdotes with the rich social tapestry of the Gilded Age to paint the portrait of the most talented financial buccaneer of his generation-- and one of the ...
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Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons

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Though reviled for more than a century as Wall Street's greatest villain, Jay Gould was in fact its most original creative genius. Gould was the robber baron's robber baron, the most astute financial and business strategist of his time and also the most widely hated. In Dark Genius of Wall Street, acclaimed biographer Edward J. Renehan, Jr., combines lively anecdotes with the rich social tapestry of the Gilded Age to paint the portrait of the most talented financial buccaneer of his generation-- and one of the inventors of modern business.
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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Nocera
It's probably too strong to say the country was built by rogues. But it's not entirely wrong. Dark Genius of Wall Street may not revive Gould's reputation, but it is a useful reminder of an eternal truth.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In the late 19th century, strong and well-moneyed families such as the Morgans and the Vanderbilts controlled the fortunes of Wall Street and the emerging industries. Renehan, author of splendid biographies of the Kennedys, Theodore Roosevelt and the naturalist John Burroughs, turns in a masterful glance at the social history of the Gilded Age as well as a brilliant biography of Gould, who outfoxed many of these other wealthy industrialists to win fame and fortune. Although his early work as a surveyor and a tanner did not bring Gould much wealth, he learned to engage in shrewd business practices that would eventually allow him to gain some dominance in the tanning industry. Wall Street and the newly emerging rail industries soon attracted his financial eye, and he turned his full attention to them. While he initially dabbled at the edges of the stock market, he picked up enough financial savvy to engineer a scheme to corner the gold market in 1869 and cause the infamous Black Friday frenzy. Renehan deftly chronicles Gould's canny financial successes in the acquisitions of the Erie, the Union and Pacific, and the Atlantic and Pacific railroads as well as the emerging telegraph industry. Maligned by his competitors and the media as an unscrupulous businessman, Gould never achieved the fame and status of Cornelius Vanderbilt or J.P. Morgan. Yet, as Renehan points out so gracefully, Gould was simply an ambitious financier in an ambitious time before the existence of regulations that his own financial deals helped create. Renehan's sumptuous prose and his dazzling research and style provide a window into Gould's ambitions and offer a first-rate social history of the financial workings of his time. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Jay Gould has been commonly regarded as the biggest robber of the robber barons, a man whose only motivation was to make money. He dominated the railroad and telegraph systems-the leading technologies of the time-and invented ways to manipulate the stock market. Some of his methods were made obsolete by the modern stock market, some were made illegal when the Securities and Exchange Commission was established, and some are still practiced today. Renehan (The Kennedys at War) maintains that Gould was not the marauding financial monster that history portrays. He reminds us that Gould's enemies were only too happy to provide grist for the anti-Gould mill, a situation Gould ignored to his own detriment. He also contradicts charges that Gould took no interest in his companies by detailing Gould's personal management of his railroad business, and he recounts Gould's philanthropy to his employees, his community, and his church-all undertaken anonymously. Eminently readable, this book takes us into the world of the Gilded Age and makes the case that history has not given Gould a fair shake. Recommended for large public libraries and academic libraries collecting in this period.-Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465068869
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/16/2006
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 336,808
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward J. Rehehan Jr. is the author of several books including Dark Genius of Wall Street, The Kennedys at War, The Lion’s Pride, The Secret Six, and John Burroughs. He contributes to such publications as American Heritage and has appeared on the History Channel, C-SPAN, and PBS. He lives in Rhode Island.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Master Jedi or Sith Lord, Renehan's Jay Gould is a Masterpiece

    It's ironic that what I can remember of my elementary & high-school History classes there is mention of Robber Barons but no in-depth review of who they are or what they specifically did. Really it only amounted to a definition of the title then anything else. As such after setting down this book as well as T.J. Stiles' The First Tycoon it is remarkable that an unbiased history labels individuals such as Gould & Vanderbilt as such. Renehan paints a remarkable canvas of the times. One where Wall Street was in its nascent stages and the U.S. marketplace was in the throes of its growth spurts. This description allows us to look objectively at the character of Jay Gould. Was he a master manipulator whose actions today would be considered illegal? Yes. But Gould didn't live in today's time with the rules and regulations that exist. He was part of an era that contributed to the push from childhood to puberty of the legislative body we have today. His actions were not pushing the envelope of ethics or legality as they would be seen through the modern day lens of today. They were actually creating the boundaries where current laws stand. Given the amount of corruption that Renehan describes it's actually incredible that of all people Gould comes out as the poster-boy for corruption rather then as the man that assisted in creating the industries that still exist today (see Union Pacific). But to get to this level of understanding of Jay Gould Renehan gives a more then cursory dip into almost every character that Gould came across & interacted wither it was a modest transaction or one with more yarn. This is very helpful as it enables us to gain a better sense of the formative years of Gould as well as how each interaction impacted him as a person. He also goes full debunking mode in laying out how some of these interactions were, potentially, misconstrued & added to the fodder of Gould dishonest reputation. It is often said that the winners write the story. In Gould's case, though clearly the winner, he enabled others (the losers or those that were unable to partake in his adventures) to write his story of a dark, unscrupulous individual. I feel Renehan goes to a great extent, in a fairly unbiased way, to help pull back the curtain on the man who presumably he himself had thrown across his visage to reveal the truer nature of Gould. A man with strong ambitions, a sharp mind & a creative spirit. Renehan's Gould was like a grand chess master able to see hundreds of moves ahead with various permutations and then execute with a staggering swiftness that left his opponents breathless. It's also very creative that Renehan tells us a postscript to Gould's story involving his progeny. It is often the case the biography ends with the main protagonist but in this case Renehan extends the timeline to show how the branches on the Gould tree extended and eventually the leaves fall.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2007

    a reviewer

    This biography of Wall Street baron Jay Gould is in some ways a primer on how American media and public opinion seem to demonize capitalists who succeed at doing what capitalists are wont to do, namely, making money. Of course, Gould was no ordinary capitalist. His ruthless tactics gave his enemies a big target to dislike. After all, when you single-handedly create an investment bubble that leads to a crash in the price of gold, resulting in congressional hearings aimed at placing blame, you expect to make a few enemies. Veteran biographer Edward J. Renehan paints a fair, nuanced and colorful portrait of Gould, whose manic focus on business success probably was driven by his tragic childhood. We strongly recommend this book, especially to students of business history, in the belief that it offers a more in-depth record about an extraordinary and extraordinarily flawed man who was vilified in his time.

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