Author of The Kennedys at War and The Lion’s Pride, Edward J. Renehan, Jr. presents a fascinating biography of one of the most hated and most admired American entrepreneurs of all time. Here, he sheds light on Wall Street magnate Jay Gould and his frequently overshadowed creativity. Gould was the quintessential robber baron and the original modern businessman whose financial examples persist even today.
©2005 Edward J. Renehan, Jr. (P)2006 Recorded Books, LLC
Jay Gould was a complex man. No "good time Charlie," not a man to clamor for attention (as was his contemporary and sometime crony Jim Fisk, colorfully described here), Gould had a quieter but doubtless striking focus and intensity. Plenty of light is shed here on the individuals along the way to Gould's apex of wealth, financial dealing and power, and this moves nicely as a human story. I do hear the author being an apologist for Gould, not distractingly so, but it seems to me the desire to rehabilitate the man's reputation sometimes clashes with the story we are being told. Gould is presented as a smart and motivated fellow in a fairly sympathetic light, passing through difficulties not uncommon to his era, but rather suddenly we find him tangling bitterly with a few business partners who come to despise him (rightly or wrongly), and boom! Here he is in New York City and in the middle of every kind of duplicity in the Erie Railroad wars with Fisk, Vanderbilt and others, a viper pit (or perhaps a every exciting gladiatorial arena, depending on one's views) if there ever was one! Only the most clever, swift and tough could survive in that situation, and I wonder where THAT Gould came from, fairly suddenly. But I enjoy this story, and I like the deal details and pace.
I was looking for Ron Chernow's biography of J.P. Morgan and settled for this. Jay Gould is mostly forgotten now and hearing the facts of his life filled in a lot of US Gilded Age history for me. You'll also learn about 'Commodore' Vanderbilt, the snaky bible talking Drew Pearson and my favourite, the big living 'Colonel' James Fisk Jr.
Gould was a master manipulator and to listen to the strategies he came up with and how he executed them was very entertaining. There were a few caveats- the book wasn't digitally mastered perfectly, there are a few glitches, mostly in the first half of the book. As well, the final chapter is an in depth tracing of all his descendants which felt unnecessary.
A final reason to read this - the next time you play Monopoly you'll know the crazy histories of all the railroad properties!
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