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Kirkus ReviewsGeisst (Finance/Manhattan Coll.) attempts a comprehensive history of Wall Street. Unfortunately, this amorphous subject poses problems that are not overcome.
"Wall Street" is an umbrella term for the financial community centered in New York City, not a single endeavor located at a specific address. Given the role of private investment in a capitalist economic system, it is also inextricably linked to government finance, all sectors of the domestic economy, and economic activity worldwide. This makes Wall Street difficult to define, let alone document over time, but Geisst nevertheless plunges forward with a general survey. The result is an account that remains on the surface yet will often be inaccessible to those without some knowledge of the market; this compendium of information lacks any framework to guide the reader through events. To make matters worse, the broader political environment is sometimes misrepresented: How can one characterize the Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the 1930s as "the very opposite of Republican [Party] principles" when Republicans had championed protective tariffs for the preceding 60 years? The most disconcerting quality of this volume, however, is a function of Geisst's effort to combine honest description with a proWall Street perspective. For example, President Truman's suspicions "that financiers had been conspiring to rig the underwriting business in their own favor" are characterized as his "bias against Wall Street," despite Geisst's extensive accounts of financiers doing precisely what Truman suspected. Even stranger is the assertion that the dismissal of a government case alleging collusion on Wall Street proved that investment bankers are "vital to the economy"; vital they may be, but drawing this conclusion here is certainly a non sequitur.
A history of Wall Street educating the general public about this important and often confusing institution is a worthy goal—and one not yet achieved.