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Wheels of Fortune: The History of Speculation from Scandal to Respectability

ISBN: 978-0-471-21222-5
416 pages
October 2002
Wheels of Fortune: The History of Speculation from Scandal to Respectability (0471212229) cover image


An intriguing history of the futures market and speculation
From Jay Gould's attempt to corner the gold market in the 1860s to the Hunt brothers' scandalous efforts to control the silver market in the 1980s, Wheels of Fortune traces the rich, colorful history of the futures market on its quest for respectability and profit. This comprehensive account shows readers why the markets have been grabbing headlines for over 100 years as both respectable economic institutions and hotbeds of gambling activity and scandal. Charles Geisst brings the personalities and strategies behind the futures market and speculation in general to life, against a backdrop of American life that begins prior to the Civil War.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Introduction vii

Chapter 1 A Tale of the Pits 1

Chapter 2 Futures and 'Wild Jackasses' 49

Chapter 3 The Great Bear Hunt 99

Chapter 4 Expanding the Menu 143

Chapter 5 Metals and Money 187

Chapter 6 Chicago Follies 243

Chapter 7 Rogues' Gallery 297

Postscript 353

Bibliography 355

Index 360

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Author Information

CHARLES R. GEISST is the author of thirteen books, including the bestsellers Wall Street: A History and 100 Years of Wall Street as well as The Last Partnerships and Monopolies in America. Previously, he worked as a capital markets analyst and investment banker at several investment banks in London and also has taught both political science and finance. He has contributed to many journals and newspapers, including the International Herald Tribune, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, and The Wall Street Journal, and has appeared as a guest on many radio and television financial programs.
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Futures trading has always represented the best and worst sides of the economy. On the one hand, it is the epitome of commercial progress: Property rights have become so secure and technology so advanced that traders can confidently risk huge sums on small changes in commodity prices. The hedge against risk these creative traders provide allows companies to fine-tune their own products in ways that maximize the benefits to consumers.
On the other hand, traders face extraordinary temptations to manipulate their markets, because what they buy and sell is information, far removed from the products it represents and yet easily converted into real cash. The result, as charted in this detailed but nonanalytical history, has been an ongoing seesaw between self-regulation and government intervention. The maturing economy has tamed the "cowboy" proclivities of traders a bit; still, corrupt traders now have the potential to disrupt the broad economy in ways undreamed of in earlier decades. The entrepreneurial drama continues. (Harvard Business Review, December 2002)
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