Scoundrels, dupes and lambs abound in the annals of Wall Street. They ply for riches. They lose fortunes. Bold, covetous, criminal and upright, the denizens of the Street have long inspired a mix of love and hate in the popular consciousness. They've also inspired a menagerie of fictive and half-fictive tales of their exploits. It has been more than a century since Edwin LeFevre's early contribution to the genre, Wall Street Stories, was first published in 1901. Much has changed since then. LeFevre's yarn about a man named Sharpe who expertly manipulates the price of shares in the American Turpentine Trust could hardly be said to have a modern-day counterpart; stock markets are too broad and too big to be jerked around these days, and attempts to do so would likely be discovered and prosecuted. Likewise, the intimacy between Mrs Hunt and her broker in The Woman and her Bonds hearkens to a disappeared era in which full-service brokers were really full-service - when you'd stop by the office to discuss your portfolio instead of calling or clicking a few buttons online.
Nevertheless, there is plenty in LeFevre's book that still rings true. Rascals like Ken Lay, Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford still exist, after all. And we still fall prey to many of the psychoses that LeFevre identified with abject clarity in Wall Street Stories. The remorse felt by Mrs Hunt, for example, when she rejects her broker's advice to buy a block of bonds that subsequently rise in price.
Or the tendency, described in The Tipster, for investors to hold on to losing investments in the hope that they will return to the price at which they were bought. LeFevre is most famous for his Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, which he wrote more than 20 years after Wall Street Stories. Yet the vignettes in this volume, which had been out of print before McGraw-Hill reissued it last year, still make for entertaining (and sometimes scarily relevant) reading.
Publisher: McGraw Hill, 2008