A Disposition to Be Rich by Geoffrey C. Ward

97%

14 Critic Reviews

The book is a beguiling reminder that human nature doesn't much change from one Gilded Age to another, although each new con merchant brings fresh wrinkles to the racket.
-Wall Street Journal

Synopsis

Ferdinand Ward was the greatest swindler of the Gilded Age. Through his unapologetic villainy, he bankrupted Ulysses S. Grant and ran roughshod over the entire world of finance. Now, his compelling, behind-the-scenes story is told—told by his great-grandson, award-winning historian Geoffrey C. Ward.
Ward was the Bernie Madoff of his day, a supposed genius at making big money fast on Wall Street who turned out to have been running a giant pyramid scheme—one that ultimately collapsed in one of the greatest financial scandals in American history. The son of a Protestant missionary and small-town pastor with secrets of his own to keep, Ward came to New York at twenty-one and in less than a decade, armed with charm, energy, and a total lack of conscience, made himself the business partner of the former president of the United States and was widely hailed as the “Young Napoleon of Finance.” In truth, he turned out to be a complete fraud, his entire life marked by dishonesty, cowardice, and contempt for anything but his own interests.
Drawing from thousands of family documents never before examined, Geoffrey C. Ward traces his great-grandfather’s rapid rise to riches and fame and his even more dizzying fall from grace. There are mistresses and mansions along the way; fast horses and crooked bankers and corrupt New York officials; courtroom confrontations and six years in Sing Sing; and Ferdinand’s desperate scheme to kidnap his own son to get his hands on the estate his late wife had left the boy. Here is a great story about a classic American con artist, told with boundless charm and dry wit by one of our finest historians.
 

 

About Geoffrey C. Ward

See more books from this Author
Geoffrey C. Ward is the coauthor of The Civil War (with Ken Burns and Ric Burns), and the author of A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, which won the 1989 National Book Critics Circle Award for biography and the 1990 Francis Parkman Prize.
 
Published May 1, 2012 by Vintage. 432 pages
Genres: History, Biographies & Memoirs, Business & Economics, Crime. Non-fiction
Bookmark Counts:
2
Want to Read
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for A Disposition to Be Rich
All: 14 | Positive: 14 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by T. J. Stiles on Jun 29 2012

In such self-awareness and intelligence, such grace when faced with pain and death, we feel the weight of Ward’s crime. And we, too, learn to love Grant.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on May 13 2012

But “A Disposition to Be Rich” is a special accomplishment. It is a most peculiar labor of love.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich | See more reviews from NY Times

Wall Street Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by Edward Kosner on Apr 27 2012

The book is a beguiling reminder that human nature doesn't much change from one Gilded Age to another, although each new con merchant brings fresh wrinkles to the racket.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich | See more reviews from Wall Street Journal

Star Tribune

Excellent
Reviewed by Chuck Leddy on Aug 14 2012

The author's account, while perhaps a bit too long on multigenerational family biography, truly pegs the odious personality of the legendary Wall Street fraudster:

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich | See more reviews from Star Tribune

Washington Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Joseph Goulden on Jun 15 2012

A gripping story of chicanery in the stock market which drives home the ancient adage, “Buyer, beware!”

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich | See more reviews from Washington Times

LA Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Scott Martelle on May 20 2012

Maybe if we had remembered the story of fast-talking Ferdie Ward, people would have taken Madoff's promises of riches a little more skeptically.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich | See more reviews from LA Times

Christian Science Monitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Carlo Wolff on May 07 2012

What’s as impressive as Ferd Ward’s career was wayward is his great-grandson’s powers of historical synthesis.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent
Reviewed by Glenn Altschuler on May 21 2012

Drawing on thousands of documents preserved by members of his family, the book is an engrossing and entertaining, up-close-and-personal portrait of a compulsive swindler and sociopath, the Bernard Madoff of the Gilded Age.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

The Seattle Times

Excellent
Reviewed by John Saul on May 20 2012

Readers are fortunate that a writer as talented as Geoffrey C. Ward had a great-grandfather as villainous as Ferdinand Ward.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

Journal Sentinel

Excellent
Reviewed by Chris Foran on May 05 2012

...an award-winning historian..Ward has a solid perspective on American history, particularly the nation's growing pains of the second half of the 19th century.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Excellent
Reviewed by Doug Childers on Aug 26 2012

Madoff better hope he doesn't have for a descendant a historian as skilled as Ward.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

Kansas City Star

Excellent
Reviewed by David Walton on May 31 2012

The depth and precision of sources are outstanding, and many family letters and journals are quoted at length. “A Disposition to be Rich” is a unique family history that is also a unique literary collaboration.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

Philly.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Douglas Campbell on Jun 03 2012

He dug where none other could go – into the dark, Victorian crypt of his own family history – and unearthed a story of human flaws masked as virtues, of how those flaws are blindly, inevitably, unavoidably passed along from parents to children.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

The American Scholar

Excellent
Reviewed by Brenda Wineapple

Ward does not moralize. Like Hawthorne, he’s interested not only in character but also in the consequences of one’s actions, and so he can vividly exorcise at last, without excuse or apology, his reprobate forebear.

Read Full Review of A Disposition to Be Rich

Reader Rating for A Disposition to Be Rich
76%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 39 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review

Reader reviews & activity

Andrew Novak

Andrew Novak 23 Sep 2013

Added the book to want to read list

Tracy Farkas

Tracy Farkas 5 Sep 2013

Added the book to want to read list

×