The Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora's Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance

Michael Perino, Penguin Press, $27.95 (348p) ISBN 978-1-59420-272-8
Perino, law professor at St. John's University, recounts the 1933 investigation into Wall Street abuses by the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, focusing on the 10-day interrogation by chief counsel Ferdinand Pecora of executives of National City Bank (precursor to Citigroup). A morass of tawdry scams surfaced in the hearings: the bank's in-house stock pools artificially inflated its own stock; bank officers gave themselves no-interest (and apparently no-repayment) loans; mom-and-pop investors relying on National City's supposedly impartial advice were sold dubious securities in which the bank had a hidden financial interest. The author argues that Pecora's revelations, coming amid the 1933 bank collapse, stoked public outrage and paved the way for unprecedented government regulation of the financial system. Perino's narrative is a lucid account of period banking and stock-market swindles and a crackerjack legal drama, as Pecora's cunning, relentless questioning demolished the bankers' evasions. (The Sicilian immigrant's triumph over the WASP financial elite also heralded a social revolution, the author contends.) Perino's book is a trenchant, entertaining study of the New Deal's heroic beginnings, one with obvious relevance to latter-day efforts to rein in Wall Street's excesses. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/19/2010
Release date: 10/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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