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Devil Take the Hindmost

A History of Financial Speculation
Narrated by: Nigel Patterson
Length: 13 hrs and 29 mins
Categories: History, World
4.5 out of 5 stars (27 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Devil Take the Hindmost is a lively, original, and challenging history of stock market speculation from the 17th century to the present day. Edward Chancellor traces the origins of the speculative spirit back to ancient Rome and chronicles its revival in the modern world: from the tulip scandal of 1630s Holland, to "stockjobbing" in London's Exchange Alley (where wine sold at auction by an "inch of a candle"), to the infamous South Sea Bubble of 1719, which prompted investor Sir Isaac Newton to comment, "I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people." Here are brokers underwriting risks that included highway robbery and the "assurance of female chastity;" credit notes and lottery tickets circulating as money; wise and unwise investors from Alexander Pope and Benjamin Disraeli to Ivan Boesky and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

©1999 Edward Chancellor (P)2019 Tantor

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 03-07-19

Well-picked scenes span tulips up to 20 years ago

I've read a good half-dozen books on this theme. This one is at the top. It has a wide span in time and place, and does not pretend to tell every story or probe every angle. But it does exceptionally well with the choice of stories and the development of each. It is nuanced and yet constantly ties to big pictures and themes. As it takes a tour of time through the lens of speculation, it likewise takes a tour of places, with concentrated stories. These include: Dutch tulip mania, Law's Mississippi Company fiasco and the South Sea Bubble in England into the 1720s, the railroad booms in 1840s England, the post-Civil War US Gilded Age, the US runup and Crash of the 1920s and 1930s, the roaring 80s in the US, a very lucid telling of the '87 crash, and the decline into the early 90s, a quite revealing look at Japan's rise and fall into the 90s, and finally, the surge of derivatives and hedge funds and their stumbling in the late 1990s. The Dot Com rise and 2000-2001 bust is not addressed (beyond a good look at Alan Greenspan and his attitudes and statements into the late 1990s). However, there is a tremendous critique of Greenspan's and his allies' efficient market faiths and the linked financial instruments and global finance defects of these, which is prescient, looking forward to 2008 and beyond. One thing very well shown here is the venality and self-dealing of government officials at each stop. Everywhere are well-picked quotes from various financial luminaries. I noticed smaller factual errors scattered here and there (regulators closed the Merc in the '87 crash, really? That's not what I heard, the heroic tale was the Merc staying open), but these are forgivable and not significant in the overall flow. The critique of Greenspan and his fellow Mandarins is prophetic and spot on. This ties now to the deeper story of weak points in global finance to this day.
The deep Japan study was one I haven't seen anywhere else and is fascinating.
Overall there is a great balance of narrative and concepts, right at the sweet spot. I learned new things.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful