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When J. P. Morgan called a meeting of New York's financial leaders after the stock market crash of 1907, Hetty Green was the only woman in the room. The Guinness Book of World Records memorialized her as the World's Greatest Miser, and, indeed, this unlikely robber baron -- who parlayed a comfortable inheritance into a fortune that was worth about 1.6 billion in today's dollars -- was frugal to a fault. But in an age when women weren't even allowed to vote, never mind concern themselves with interest rates, she lived by her own rules. In Hetty, Charles Slack reexamines her life and legacy, giving us, at long last, a splendidly "nuanced portrait" (Newsweek) of one of the greatest -- and most eccentric -- financiers in American history.
This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
At the time of her death, Hetty Green (1834 1916) was the wealthiest woman in America, having amassed a $100-million fortune. Perhaps unfairly, however, she is remembered primarily as a mean, litigious and compulsive tightwad who bought bags of broken cookies because they were cheap and who posed as a pauper so doctors would treat her free of charge. In his entertaining biography, Slack (Noble Obsession) tells how this "Wizard of Finance" built an empire of stocks, bonds, railroads, real estate and cash reserves a considerable achievement for a woman of her time by devoting every waking moment to making money according to simple principles: buy low, sell high and don't go to pieces in a panic. Stubborn and vindictive, Hetty exacted harsh revenge on her financial enemies, and popular opinion held that such a woman couldn't possibly be happy. But Slack demonstrates otherwise, arguing that Hetty was perfectly content and was merely living according to her own rules. Her children, though, may have been less at ease: Hetty's daughter, who long lived in Hetty's shadow, had the family mansion demolished after Hetty died, and her son made his mark as a big spender. Slack doesn't try to find a moral here; he just concentrates on telling a good story and telling it well. Photos not seen by PW.