Wall Street Vs. Main Street

Last Updated Oct 15, 2008 4:34 PM EDT

Want to know who's to blame for the current financial mess? Read "Wall Street: America's Dream Factory," by Steve Fraser. It's the first recommendation and focus of a review essay on Wall Street and Main Street by Carlin Romano. Romano gives Fraser's book high praise, calling it both entertaining and edifying. He particularly likes how Fraser puts a face on the amorphous idea of "Wall Street." Fraser does this by building his brief history around four well-known Street stereotypes: Aristocrat, Con Man, Hero and Immoralist.

Once you have your historical grounding, Romano recommends a few other things to read that aim to help us go beyond "Wall Street" as metaphor. He says Charles R. Morris's "The Trillion Dollar Meltdown" is "the best technical explanation of what's going on on now. Meanwhile, Charles Ellis's "The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs" is both an excellent look at the firm and, perhaps, the Wall Street that is no more. Romano says Ellis was able to avoid writing a fan letter to Goldman, despite its close cooperation with the book in the research phase.

The new anthology "Panic: the Story of Modern Financial Insanity," edited by Michael Lewis, tries to show how the complexity of the market itself is now a major scourge -- making it harder to point fingers. There may not be a Samuel Insull, or even a Long-Term Capital Management, in the current crisis.

Finally, in an effort to suggest that none of us are free from blame, Romano suggests the classic novel "Main Street," by Sinclair Lewis.
Plus, reading the review will teach you the meaning of synecdoche.

Thanks to a loyal reader for the tip on the link.

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.