Gordon, John Steele 1944-
GORDON, John Steele 1944-
PERSONAL: Born May 7, 1944, in New York, NY; son of Richard Haden, Jr. (an executive) and Mary (Steele) Gordon. Education: Vanderbilt University, B.A., 1966. Politics: Liberal. Religion: None. Hobbies and other interests: Photography, history, politics, cooking, zoology.
ADDRESSES: Home—706 South Pascack Rd., Spring Valley, NY 10977.
MEMBER: Union Club.
Overlanding: Roaming the World on Four Wheels, (nonfiction; also known as Overlanding: How to Explore the World on Four Wheels), Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 1997.
(Author of foreword and epilogue) W. Duncan Macmillan, MacMillan: The American Grain Family, Afton Historical Society Press (Afton, MN), 1998.
The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street As a World Power, 1653-2000, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
The Business of America (essays), Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2001.
A Thread across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2002.
Columnist, American Heritage.
ADAPTATIONS: A television special based on The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street As a World Power, 1653-2000 aired on the CNBC cable channel in December, 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: A writer on business, John Steele Gordon is the author of several volumes that focus on the American economy of past and present. The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street: Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Erie Railway Wars, and the Birth of Wall Street tells the story of three nineteenth-century business whizzes and "their antics in what became known as the Erie Railway Wars," according to Walter Goodman of the New York Times. Vanderbilt, the book's erstwhile hero, was at mid-century America's richest man, a railway tycoon. Vanderbilt's Erie Railway—the "Scarlet Woman" of the book's title—was a faltering concern that once nevertheless held the distinction of the longest railroad in the world. Erie Railway caught the attention of Fisk, Gould, and Daniel Drew, three stock-market manipulators of the "bareknuckle" variety, according to Goodman's review.
Once Fisk and Gould (the "Mephistopheles of Wall Street," as Gordon's book described him) got on the board of Erie, "its wars began in earnest," wrote Goodman. On one side were the stock manipulators intent on making a quick profit then bailing out; on the other, Vanderbilt, who wished to retain control of his railroad to prevent rate wars with the rival New York Central line. "Generous quotes from newspapers of the time enliven [the] pages" of The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, Goodman commented. The author, he added, "takes time from the rough-and-tumble to show how the Stock Exchange was developing during this period form a curbside operation to a more formal and safer trading ground."
In Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, Gordon reaches back further in history to relate the legacy of Alexander Hamilton, the United States' first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton had to deal with a national debt as old as the country itself; though, as Steve Forbes of Forbes put it, "the debt was not always the bane it has become today"; indeed, as a Government Finance Review article by Cornelius Tierney noted, the "blessing" from Hamilton referred to the debt itself. "A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing," Hamilton wrote to the country's financier of the Revolution. Hamilton had a perception of controllable debt, but societal attitudes corrupted the idea. The modern legacy of debt—the impulse to acquire now, pay later—"burdens children and grandchildren yet unborn; this is a national tragedy," as Tierney wrote. "Determining why or how such a blessing turned to such a pox is difficult, but [Gordon] does attempt an evenhanded explanation supported by a judicious use of numbers, and none esoteric." George Hunt, a Commonweal contributor, praised Gordon's accessible writing style; both Hamilton's Blessing and The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street are "popular, lucid histories for noneconomists like you and me."
"A couple years ago an editor at Scribner asked me to write a book covering the entire history of Wall Street," Gordon told American Heritage in 1999. Having recently published The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, he had hesitations—"I have never liked writing about anything a second time. However, suitably bribed with a generous advance, I agreed to undertake the task." The result is The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street As a World Power, 1653-2000, a "highly entertaining" book, according to Library Journal's Norman Hutcherson. In this work the author explains how Wall Street, which began in the seventeenth century as an adjunct to the equally boisterous Philadelphia exchange, became 'the very beating heart of world capitalism.' As a popular history, The Great Game "is among the best of its kind," in the view of an Economist reviewer, adding that Gordon "breaks with conventional wisdom in taking a sanguine view of bear markets. He argues that it requires several collapses in share prices to force the enactment of necessary reform." To the author, Internet trading is the "current candidate crying out for reform," the reviewer continued. Gordon compares the get-rich-click schemes of the Internet with the excesses that characterized trading in the 1920s—just prior to the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression. "It will be a hundred years before [the effects of the Internet] fully plays out," Gordon told New York Times interviewer William Holstein in 2001. "We are now at the point with the Internet that they were with the railroad in 1850. It's just beginning."
The Business of America, a 2001 release, compiles forty-seven articles Gordon wrote for American Heritage. His subject, said John Lilly in a Wall Street Journal review, "is the central place of capitalism in all of American life, both personal and political, and he brings to his task a storyteller's dexterity and a store of erudition, drawing surprising parallels—sometimes between events separated by centuries." One entry, "R.I.P. ICC," eulogizes the Interstate Commerce Commission, which ended its days in 1995, having, as Gordon put it, "outlived the problem it was created to manage by several decades." A Publishers Weekly contributor found value in the individual pieces, but said that reading them in sequence "is a bit like trying to make a meal out of a lot of appetizers." Likewise, Business History Review's Peter Eisenstadt found The Business of America to be "something of a disappointment" compared to Gordon's earlier books. But Steven Silkunas of Library Journal had a more positive reaction, saying that the author's strength "is the pithy encapsulation of economic lessons." And to Lilly, "history offers Mr. Gordon plenty of interesting material, and he takes full advantage of it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 1999, David Rouse, review of The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street As a World Power, 1653-2000, p. 490.
Business History Review, spring, 2000, Peter Eisenstadt, review of The Great Game, p. 129.
Choice, December, 1988, S. L. Engerman, review of The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street: Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Erie Railway Wars, and the Birth of Wall Street, p. 682.
Commonweal, June 19, 1998, George Hunt, review of Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, p. 25.
Economist, December 6, 1997, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 95; January 8, 2000, review of The Great Game, p. 81.
ETC, fall, 1997, Martin Levinson, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 376.
Federal Lawyer, August, 1997, Michael Tow, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 36.
Forbes, February 24, 1997, Steve Forbes, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 25.
Government Finance Review, October, 1997, Cornelius Tierney, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 54.
Industry Week, March 17, 1997, Vivian Pospisil, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 26.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1975, review of Overlanding: Roaming the World on Four Wheels, p. 488.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, April, 1990, review of The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, p. 45.
Library Journal, April 15, 1975, Harold Otness, review of Overlanding, p. 762; August, 1988, Paul Cors, review of The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, p. 156; January, 1997, Susan Stussy, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 115; November 1, 1999, Norman Hutcherson, review of The Great Game, p. 100; June 1, 2001, Steven Silkunas, review of The Business of America, p. 179.
Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2000, Steve Fraser, review of The Great Game, p. E1.
New York Times, September 20, 1988, Walter Goodman, review of The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, p. C20; February 6, 1997, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. B7; August 6, 2001, William Holstein, "Financial History, As a Tale of Passion" and "To Gauge the Internet, Listen to the Steam Engine," p. BU5.
Public Administration Review, March, 2000, Richard White, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 186.
Publishers Weekly, December 2, 1996, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. 44; October 25, 1999, review of The Great Game, p. 68; June 4, 2001, review of The Business of America, p. 72.
Wall Street Journal, February 13, 1997, Fred Bleakly, review of Hamilton's Blessing, p. A16; December 13, 1999, David Henderson, "Panics of the Past, Fortunes of the Future," p. A32; August 14, 2001, John Lilly, "So Many Things to Buy and Sell, and So Many Lessons to Be Learned," p. A12.*