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.
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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
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
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
...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
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
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
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
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
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
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