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

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

Author: Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 384
Cover Price: $ 19.95

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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. He could go head-to-head with the likes of Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the U.S. Treasury and almost always outsmart them. Gould was the undisputed master of the nation's railroads and telegraph systems at a time when these were the fastest-growing new technologies of the age.

His scheme to corner the gold market in 1869 caused the Black Friday panic. He created new ways of manipulating markets, assembling capital, and swallowing his competitors. Many of these methods are now standard practice; others were unique to their circumstances and unrepeatable; some were among the first things prohibited by the SEC when it came into being in the 1930s.

Edward J. Renehan, Jr., recounts the life story of a figure whose influence in his day outranks that of Bill Gates today. Simultaneously, Renehan reveals a time when a "corporate takeover battle" was quite literally a battle involving not just lawyers and bankers but the buying and selling of judges and occasional confrontations between gangs of armed thugs. Renehan combines anecdotes with the social tapestry of the Gilded Age to paint the portrait of a man who was undoubtedly the most talented financial buccaneer of his generation - and one of the inventors of modern business.

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Background Information

Jay Gould was a railroad investor and speculator during the Gilded Age and is sometimes regarded as the epitome of the immoral robber baron. Cornelius Vanderbilt founded a transportation empire based on steam and launched a family dynasty that became synonymous with extreme wealth. The secretaries of the Treasury, since the first secretary Alexander Hamilton, have held positions of influence in the cabinets of most presidents.