Cover image for Monopolies in America : empire builders and their enemies from Jay Gould to Bill Gates
Monopolies in America : empire builders and their enemies from Jay Gould to Bill Gates
Geisst, Charles R.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
x, 355 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1320 Lexile.
Format :


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HD2757.2 .G45 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this incisive and comprehensive history, business historian Charles Geisst traces the rise of monopolies from the railroad era to today's computer software empires. The history of monopolies has been dominated by strong and charismatic personalities. Adding a fascinating element to his book, Geisst tells the stories behind the individuals--from John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie to Michael Milken and Bill Gates--who forged these business empires withgenius, luck, and an often ruthless disregard for fair competition. He also analyzes the viewpoints of their equally colorful critics, from Louis Brandeis to Ralph Nader. These figures enliven the narrative, offering insight into how large businesses accumulate power. Viewed as either godsends orpariahs, monopolies have sparked endless debate and often conflicting responses from Washington. Monopolies in America surveys the important pieces of legislation and judicial rulings that have emerged since the post-Civil War era, and proposes that American antitrust activity has had less to dowith hard economics than with political opinion. What was considered a monopoly in 1911 when Standard Oil and American Tobacco were broken up was not applied again when the Supreme Court refused to dismantle U.S. Steel in 1919. Charting the growth of big business in the United States, Geisst reachesthe startling conclusion that the mega-mergers that have dominated Wall Street headlines for the past fifteen years are not simply a trend, but a natural consequence of American capitalism. Intelligent and informative, Monopolies in America skillfully chronicles the course of American big business, and allows us to see how the debate on monopolies will be shaped in the twentieth-first century.

Author Notes

Charles Geisst is Professor of Finance in the School of Business, New York City, and author of Wall Street: A History (OUP).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Geisst is a Manhattan College finance professor whose Wall Street: A History (1997) has proved so readable that it was just rereleased in paperback. He now attempts a similar historical review of monopolies. Most of what has been written about monopolies has been either economic analysis or reform-minded protest. Geisst, instead, offers an authoritative and dispassionate yet colorful popular account. Although Geisst also chronicles legislation and court battles, his story of monopoly is really one of compelling and sometimes grandiose personalities, whether it is the men who built these business empires or the men and women who challenged their power. As Geisst suggests, Americans seem willing to tolerate monopolies when they are not personified by powerful individuals; our disdain is reserved for the Goulds, the Rockefellers, and the Gateses. Geisst also debunks what he calls the conventional wisdom that there have been four distinct eras of great mergers in the U.S. He argues that since the nation began to industrialize, the "entire period of American capitalism . . . has been an unrelenting trend toward consolidation." --David Rouse

Library Journal Review

Geisst (Wall Street: A History) points out that for many people the board game remains their only exposure to the legal concept of monopoly. But buying up property and eliminating competitors is only part of the picture, according to this intriguing new book. Even though the origins of monopolies can be traced back to Elizabethan England, the model as we know it is uniquely American and has been with the United States since the mid-19th century. The first monopoly, which involved railroads, arose in part out of the economic needs of an expanding new country. Commodore Vanderbilt and Jay Gould certainly personify the monopolistic tendencies of the early railroads, but the greatest and arguably most infamous monopolist of the last 100 years was John D. Rockefeller Sr. Geisst states that "Monopolies were difficult to argue against when they provided a superior product. But when they could be shown to pose a threat to society at large, public sentiment shifted against them." While Geisst knows his facts, he seems too careful in laying out the cast of characters while allowing his scholarly fairness to play down the genuine evils of certain monopolies. At times, he loses his historical narrative while giving attention to legal issues. Nevertheless, his book is recommended for larger nonfiction collections and all business collections.ÄRichard S. Drezen, Washington Post News Research Ctr., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Business historian Geisst's fact-filled, readable book aims to be an "incisive and comprehensive" history of US monopolies. Unfortunately, it is neither. The book chronologically examines an impressive array of "empire builders" (working its way from post-Civil War railroad magnates, Rockefeller's Standard Oil, and J.P. Morgan's "money trust" to more recent conglomerate builders and corporate raiders), providing considerable information about their "battles" with one another and with their "enemies" (from muckraking journalists to government regulators). "Defining a monopoly has always been a tricky business," Geisst warns. His unfocused solution is to recount the story of almost any business that has been tarred by the press or government as a monopoly. The narrative relies almost exclusively on what was written about these events as they occurred, ignoring the work of generations of economic historians and eschewing economic analysis. While this volume may inform those with little knowledge on the subject, it is more likely to mislead the reader with its dated, uninformed interpretations (e.g., on the causes of the Great Depression) and repeated insistence that the US economy has been relentlessly moving toward consolidation. Not recommended for academic collections. R. M. Whaples; Wake Forest University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 The """"Monopolist Menace (1860-1890)p. 11
2 Good and """"Bad"""" Trusts (1890-1920)p. 47
3 Looking the Other Way (1920-1930)p. 92
4 Collapsing Empires (1930-1940)p. 126
5 Concentrating on Fascism (1940-1953)p. 167
6 Déjà Vu (1954-1969)p. 203
6 Bearing Down (1970-1982)p. 247
8 Good-Bye Antitrust (1983-1999)p. 282
Notesp. 321
Bibliographyp. 333
Indexp. 341