Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Go-Go Years: The Drama and Crashing Finale of Wall Street’s Bullish 60s

The Book: The Go-Go Years: The Drama and Crashing Finale of Wall Street’s Bullish 60s, by John Brooks (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999).
Why you should care: A very readable collection of vignettes of investors, entrepreneurs, business, and markets during a period of incredible economic growth.
Although time is starting to take its toll in some ways, my memories of the 1960s remain bright and fresh, subject to almost instantaneous recall. Between the bookends of John Glenn’s orbit in 1962 and the dark depths of the Vietnam War in 1969, I can easily bring to mind memories of TV programs (Batman twice a week—BAM! POW!), popular music (Sporcle has not yet published a quiz on the music of the 1960s and 1970s that I cannot dominate), cool stuff (thank you, Wham-O), baseball (that heart-breaking seventh game in the 1965 World Series), and—yes, it’s true—the stock market.
OK, I’ll admit it; I was something of a precocious child. My lawyer father, perhaps a bit relieved that I was taking some interest in something that could actually lead to a remunerative occupation, from time to time would bring home investment guides and stock analysis books written by giants of the financial world. If I recall correctly, my studies led me to choose American Motors as a good bet, and I received the gift of five shares for my eleventh birthday.  Don’t ask how that turned out. After all, I ended up going into law, not investments.
Looking back, I think my interest arose naturally from what was going on around me. I can’t point to any particular incident, but I do remember that at the time everyone seemed to take at least a passing interest in the stock market. There’s a certain duality to my recollections, like the evening news reports that would turn from the daily casualty reports (“15 Americans and 590 Viet Cong guerillas were killed today in intermittent fighting in the Mekong Delta”) to the financial reports (“today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average set another high, climbing 15 points”).
So it was with some interest—and much nostalgia—that I cracked open John Brooks’ The Go-Go Years: The Drama and Crashing Finale of Wall Street’s Bullish 60s. Through a series of brief vignettes, Brooks captures the morphing of Wall Street from a playground for the idle rich and the Old Establishment to its emergence “as a kind of American Mount Olympus where the gods walked, bluffed and blustered, gossiped, made mistakes, and sometimes touched aspiring mortals with financial godhood.”
There is much here of interest to an entrepreneur—how some people went from just a good idea and no capital to owning controlling blocks of huge publicly traded conglomerates, some exiting at the top, others crashing and burning. H. Ross Perot, who as an independent presidential candidate in 1992 coined the phrase “a giant sucking sound” to describe the loss of American jobs that would be caused by NAFTA, is only one of the many players on the 1960s stage described here who managed to build and keep incredible wealth. Their stories are entertaining, and sometimes still very instructive.

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