Captains of Commerce

Captains of CommerceI can say with a great deal of confidence that all successful businessmen are greedy and corrupt, but this just means I'm jealous. I want nothing more than to be wealthy, greedy and irretrievably immoral, but unfortunately, I have neither the intelligence nor the discipline to be so flagrantly determined. At least I can read books about the rich while I dream.

The Snowball is a long biography of the endearingly eccentric Warren Buffett, who made his money meticulously investing in undervalued companies. His massive biography pays equal attention to his somewhat troubled personal life, his financial career and the myriad characters he met along the way.

Not all financiers are quite so endearing. Born in 1855, Andrew Mellon took his father's successful real estate investments and made himself an empire, growing so influential he became the Secretary of the Treasury for three presidents. Unfortunately, he was less than successful in his personal life and became a scapegoat for the nation's problems during the Great Depression. David Cannadine's Mellon: An American Life does an admirable job of sorting through all the twists and turns of this driven, complicated man.

But what happens to all this money once it's earned? No matter how many foundations are created or how much charity is generated, the descendants can still wind up with more resources than they know what to do with. Empty Mansions tells the story of Huguette Clark, daughter of ridiculously wealthy copper magnate and U.S. Senator W.A. Clark. The Clarks have mostly been forgotten to history, and Huguette herself became the kind of recluse you'd think could only be found in 19th century novels. Nevertheless, the authors dig up enough information for quite an interesting read.

After all this talk of commerce and its ruined lives, it doesn't seem like money and ambition really pay off in the end. All things considered, though, yes I still want to be rich.

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