Merchant of Power: Sam Insull, Thomas Edison, and the Creation of the Modern Metropolis

Merchant of Power: Sam Insull, Thomas Edison, and the Creation of the Modern Metropolis

by John F. Wasik
     
 

A timely rags-to-riches story, The Merchant of Power recounts how Sam Insull--right hand to Thomas Edison--went on to become one of the richest men in the world, pivotal in the birth of General Electric and instrumental in the creation of the modern metropolis with his invention of the power grid, which still fuels major cities today. John Wasik, awarded the

Overview

A timely rags-to-riches story, The Merchant of Power recounts how Sam Insull--right hand to Thomas Edison--went on to become one of the richest men in the world, pivotal in the birth of General Electric and instrumental in the creation of the modern metropolis with his invention of the power grid, which still fuels major cities today. John Wasik, awarded the National Press Club Award for Consumer Journalism, had unprecedented access to Sam Insull's archives, which include private correspondence with Thomas Edison. The extraordinary fall of a man extraordinary for his time is revealed in this cautionary tale about the excesses of corporate power.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Brilliant . . . brings Insull back to complicated life, and should revive interest in a forgotten giant.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“[A] focused look at one of the most interesting historical figures you've never heard of . . . a fascinating cautionary tale.” —Fortune

“Does a fine job of telling the early story of utilities, moguls and scandal.” —Chicago Tribune

“One of the most magnetic and powerful con artists of the Great Depression was Sam Insull. Patron of the arts, philanthropist and Thomas Edison's right hand, he shafted thousands of investors large and small. . . . I found the work of John Wasik not only personally enthralling but an informal history of that traumatic time.” —Studs Terkel

“[A] bittersweet biography of one of the titans of American industry, business and finance . . . Highly readable. . . .” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Wasik writes well, and Insull is a complex man whose life and times makes worthwhile reading.” —Publishers Weekly

“Bloomberg News columnist John Wasik points out in a new biography, Merchant of Power, Insull started as the financial manager for a big man--not Ken Lay, but Thomas Edison. . . .” —The New York Sun

“Wasik [has] taken his cue from current corporate scandals such as Enron and WorldCom in deciding to pluck Insull from semiobscurity, as many of Insull's contemporaries (including FDR) believed him to be guilty (he was acquitted) of orchestrating the first large-scale corporate deception.” —Library Journal

Publishers Weekly
Sam Insull is the forgotten energy tycoon of the early 20th century. As Wasik, a columnist for Bloomberg News, relates, Insull came to America from England in 1881 with $200 in his pocket to be Thomas Edison's private secretary and died in a Paris metro station in 1938 with 84 cents in his pocket. In between, he helped Edison light up New York and moved to Chicago, where he built a corporate empire that raised his personal worth to over $150 million ($1.7 billion in today's dollars); then he lost everything in the Great Depression. The collapse of his companies made him the b te noire of thousands of his now destitute Chicago shareholders and, according to the author, a model for Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. Wasik notes that Insull was instrumental in two fundamental shifts in American history: first, his innovations in the delivery of electric power made possible the consumer age; second, the failure of his financial empire became a basis for the New Deal laws that now govern much of corporate America. Wasik writes well, and Insull is a complex man whose life and times make worthwhile reading. B&w photos. (Mar. 16) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Samuel Insull (1859-1938) is hardly a household name, but at the height of his popularity he appeared on the cover of Time magazine as the rags-to-riches British-born secretary to Thomas Edison who amassed enormous wealth and power by supplying 32 states with cheap electricity. Veteran consumer journalist Wasik, who has written numerous books on retirement and investment tips, takes a turn at biography by attempting to update distinguished historian Forrest McDonald's definitive Insull. Wasik's sturdy endeavor does not match McDonald's deft telling of how Insull transformed Edison's invention into the illumination of millions of homes through a network of electrical power grids and how the ultimate collapse of Insull's overleveraged position left him broken and bankrupt while ruining the finances of his supporters. Wasik may have taken his cue from current corporate scandals such as Enron and WorldCom in deciding to pluck Insull from semiobscurity, as many of Insull's contemporaries (including FDR) believed him to be guilty (he was acquitted) of orchestrating the first large-scale corporate deception. An optional purchase for large public and academic libraries.-Peter R. Latusek, Stanford Graduate Sch. of Business Lib., CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780230609525
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
12/23/2008
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

John F. Wasik is one of America's most prominent business and finance journalists and the author of nine books on investing. His column for Bloomberg News, the world's third largest news service, is read in more than 400 newspapers worldwide in five continents.

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