Golden Oldie


A Good Hard Look at Wall Street

By Fred Schwed Jr.

Wiley 215pp $16.95 paper

Fred Schwed Jr.'s classic look at the world of high finance begins with a bit of cynicism: "`Wall Street,' reads the sinister old gag, `is a street with a river at one end and a graveyard at the other.' This is striking but incomplete. It omits the kindergarten in the middle...." A novices' guide to the Street first published in 1940, Where Are the Customers' Yachts? is now being brought before a new generation of investment tyros thanks to John Wiley & Sons, the publisher that last year revived another account of bygone years, Edwin Lefvre's Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.

The "kindergarten" that Schwed refers to is actually more of a dartboard--with the investor as the target. Throwing the darts, and getting a lashing from Schwed and famed New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, are an assortment of suspects that have stood the test of time--speculators, bankers, economists, fund managers, and financial seers. Still, the book at times seems antique: Of the archetypical banker, Schwed observes: "He says `yes' only a few times a year. His rule is that he reserves his yesses for organizations so wealthy that if he said `no,' some other banker would quickly say `yes."' My, how times have changed.

A few words of caution are in order: The author's style is old-fashioned, and the portrait of Wall Street's mores wouldn't pass a 1990s political-correctness exam. The Street back then was even more a white man's world than it is today, with women relegated to the secretarial pool.