A gripping, “rollicking” (John Carreyrou, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Blood) biography of Jay Gould, the greatest of the 19th-century robber barons, whose brilliance, greed, and bare-knuckled tactics made him richer than Rockefeller and led Wall Street to institute its first financial reforms.
Had Jay Gould put his name on a university or concert hall, he would undoubtedly have been a household name today. The son of a poor farmer whose early life was marked by tragedy, Gould saw money as the means to give his family a better life…even if, to do so, he had to pull a fast one on everyone else. After entering Wall Street at the age of twenty-four, he quickly became notorious when he paralyzed the economy and nearly toppled President Ulysses S. Grant in the Black Friday market collapse of 1869 in an attempt to corner the market on gold—an event that remains among the darkest days in Wall Street history. Through clever financial maneuvers, he gained control over one of every six miles of the country’s rapidly expanding network for railroad tracks—coming close to creating the first truly transcontinental railroad and making himself one of the richest men in America.
American Rascal shows Gould’s complex, quirky character. He was at once praised for his brilliance by Rockefeller and Vanderbilt and condemned for forever destroying American business values by Mark Twain. He lived a colorful life, trading jokes with Thomas Edison, figuring Thomas Nast’s best sketches, paying Boss Tweed’s bail, and commuting to work in a 200-foot yacht.
Gould thrived in an expanding, industrial economy in which authorities tolerated inside trading and stock price manipulation because they believed regulation would stifle the progress. But by taking these practices to new levels, Gould showed how unbridled capitalism was, in fact, dangerous for the American economy. This “gripping biography” (Fortune) explores how Gould’s audacious exploitation of economic freedom triggered the first public demands for financial reforms—a call that still resonates today.
Greg Steinmetz is a partner at a money management firm in New York. He previously worked for TheWall Street Journal, where he covered investment banking before becoming Berlin Bureau Chief and then London Bureau Chief. His first book, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger, was heralded by Andrew Ross Sorkin as one of the best reads of 2015.