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Posted January 12, 2011
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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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2007
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.