A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States

A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States

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by Geoffrey C. Ward, Robertson Dean
     
 

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Ferdinand Ward was the Bernie Madoff of his generation-a supposed genius at making big money fast on Wall Street, who turned out to have been running a giant pyramid scheme that ultimately collapsed in one of the greatest financial scandals in American history. The son of a Protestant missionary and small-town pastor with secrets of his own to keep, Ward came to

Overview

Ferdinand Ward was the Bernie Madoff of his generation-a supposed genius at making big money fast on Wall Street, who turned out to have been running a giant pyramid scheme that ultimately collapsed in one of the greatest financial scandals in American history. The son of a Protestant missionary and small-town pastor with secrets of his own to keep, Ward came to New York at twenty-one and in less than a decade, armed only with charm, energy, and a total lack of conscience, made himself the business partner of a former president of the United States and was widely hailed as the "Young Napoleon of Finance." In truth, he turned out to be a complete fraud, his entire life marked by dishonesty, cowardice, and contempt for anything but his own interests.Drawing from thousands of never-before-examined family documents, Geoffrey C. Ward traces his great-grandfather's rapid rise to riches and fame, and his even more dizzying fall from grace. There are mistresses and mansions along the way; fast horses, crooked bankers, and corrupt New York officials; courtroom confrontations and six years in Sing Sing; and Ferdinand's desperate scheme to kidnap his own son to get his hands on the estate his late wife had left the boy. A Disposition to Be Rich is a great story about a classic American con artist, told with boundless charm and dry wit by one of our finest historians.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Ward] narrates a rollicking financial picaresque, but infuses it with psychological depth." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review
The New York Times Book Review
In telling this personal tale, Ward applies his characteristic scrupulousness and narrative skill. Vivid, living people swarm the pages.
—T. J. Stiles
The New York Times
Within the large Ward clan Ferdinand remains "the family sociopath," although each of his parents was a candidate for that distinction. It took a great-grandson of Ferdinand's, the prizewinning historian Geoffrey C. Ward, to write the scandal-filled but eminently fair book that airs this dirty laundry. Geoffrey Ward has reason for backhanded pride when it comes to his great-grandfather's malfeasance. Ferdinand was not just any crook; he created a Ponzi scheme before Charles Ponzi was even born. He can legitimately be called the Bernard Madoff of his time, and he had the public infamy and prison sentence to prove it.
—Janet Maslin
Publishers Weekly
Like a great 19th-century novel, this is a mordantly entertaining account of the author’s great-grandfather Ferdinand Ward, whose stock brokerage collapsed spectacularly in 1885 after swindling Ulysses S. Grant and other luminaries out of millions. Ward, a historian and Ken Burns collaborator, weaves character defects and family conflicts into a social panorama, probing Ferdinand’s loathsome, beguiling personality: the youthful charm that mesmerized Wall Street graybeards; the feelings of self-righteousness, entitlement, and whiny victimhood inherited from his missionary parents (but without their restraining moralism); the omnivorous greed that turned his post–Sing Sing Prison life into an endless scheme to wheedle, con, and sue money out of everyone he knew. (He even kidnapped his own son to get his wife’s inheritance.) Ward, winner of an NBCC award and the Francis Parkman Prize for A First-Class Temperament, narrates a rollicking financial picaresque, but infuses it with psychological depth; Ferdinand’s frauds are a tangle of personal betrayals that implicate his family as they agonize over how much of his untrustworthiness they should reveal to outsiders. The result is a fascinating study of the Victorian moral economy veering toward bankruptcy. Photos. Agent: Carl Brandt, Brandt and Hochman. (May)
Library Journal
Among the ranks of past American financial swindlers is the scoundrel Ferdinand Ward, here vividly profiled by his great-grandson. Ward (Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson) mines personal archives, letters, and diaries to reveal the origins of the dishonesty of this son of Presbyterian missionaries who had interest neither in his parents' vocation nor in an academic life. Only when he arrived in New York City in 1873 did he find his calling, earning the nickname "the young Napoleon of Wall Street." Charming and personable, he gained a reputation as a shrewd investor, attracting powerful backers and launching his own brokerage firm in 1880. The secret of his success was the classic pyramid scheme, which entailed paying off earlier investors with proceeds from newer ones. Sound familiar? In 1884, it all came crashing down and led to the firm's failure, ruining countless individuals (including President Ulysses S. Grant), and arguably contributing to the Panic of 1884. Ward went to prison but never acknowledged responsibility. VERDICT This bravely candid biography of a notorious ancestor successfully balances the truth about Ferdinand Ward's personal life with his scandalous role in this all-too-familiar American rags-to-riches-to-criminality saga. Essential for anyone interested in American financial history.—Richard Drezen, Brooklyn

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452655390
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
05/01/2012
Edition description:
MP3 - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.60(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"[Ward] narrates a rollicking financial picaresque, but infuses it with psychological depth." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Meet the Author

Robertson Dean has recorded hundreds of audiobooks in most every genre. He's been nominated for several Audie Awards, won nine Earphones Awards, and was named one of AudioFile magazine's Best Voices of 2010.

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Disposition to Be Rich 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating portrait of Ferd Ward, the scoundrel who bankrupted Pres Grant and defrauded thousands of people throughout his lifetime. Written by Ward's g-grandson who shakes out every skeleton from his family's closet, this book is an excellent addition to the history of the late 1800s.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent. This is a compelling story of American greed and early Wall-Street-type hype.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yeah. Im sure.