Book Review: The Financier

The financier is a novel written by Theodore Dreiser, it was published in 1912 as the first volume of the trilogy of desire. The main character is modeled after the American financier Charles Yerkes who was born in Philadelphia in 1837.

It is an exciting novel about the financial markets in pre-civil war America from the eyes of a would be financier who comes to be involved in the financial strata of Philadelphia. He tells the story of how he moved from being the son of a banker to one of the main financier of his city.

The story revolves around a boy Frank Cowperwood who discovers finance through the teachings of his father who is a banker in Philadelphia. Thanks to his natural curiosity, he finds meaning in all that he sees around town. He eventually starts seeing the financial side of the events that unravel before his eyes.

The young Cowperwood discovers auction houses which inspire him to delve into a small commercial venture that serves him as a first dive into real life and gives him a reputation in the eyes of other people in town including his father.

This commercial feat will open up further doors for him with the help of his family. He will have the opportunity to work for a thriving company where he learns accounting, trading, arbitrage and other concepts that he will put to good use in the future.

As a young adult he pursues his life in the financial world as a member of the Philadelphia stock market and then as a trader in other securities. His quick rise will put him in the spotlight and give him the opportunity to mix and get acquainted with important personalities from his city and further ascend the social strata.

The story accounts for the regulation lacking markets of the time and the different practices observed by the brokers, bankers and other agents of the financial markets. It was also a time when the federal reserve bank did not exists and as such no central bank was there to regulate the banking system which existed as a collection of independent institutions working on reputation alone.

This lack of regulation was present in the political circles as well where the elite of the city would intervene as they wished in municipal finance. Their clout can be seen in the way they can confer chosen individual exclusive contracts to profit for a certain trade, economic opportunity or investment.

Notwithstanding his fabulous fortunes in his professional life the book lays open his private personal life which is not without tumult especially when one considers the conservative society he was a part of in that precise period of time.