cover image The White Sharks of Wall Street

The White Sharks of Wall Street

Diana B. Henriques. Scribner Book Company, $27.5 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83399-6

In her absorbing, if occasionally meandering work, Henriques demonstrates that while today's multibillion-dollar deals may be larger in scope than those acquisitions pulled off by Thomas Mellon Evans (a distant relative of the Pittsburgh Mellons) and his contemporaries in the 1950s and '60s, the history of corporate power plays in American business is almost as old as the nation itself. Henriques follows a group of men, Evans among them, who have changed the landscape of America's largely passive corporate culture to one devoted to efficiency and generating value for shareholders. Evans acquired his first company, H.K. Porter, in 1939, and bought about 80 companies, many through proxy fights, before retiring from corporate life. His constant wheeling-and-dealing brought him in contact with other power brokers of the day, such as Lou Wolfson, Leopold Silberstein and Robert Young who helped reshape the business world. Henriques (Fidelity's World) is at her best when she evokes Evans's colorful life, from his rise as a young orphan to his death in 1997, covering his three marriages, his passion for art and his relationship with his three sons (one of whom took over Macmillan Publishing until he lost it in a hostile takeover by Robert Maxwell). In a narrative that is part biography, part business history, Henriques engagingly documents some of America's most charismatic and controversial businessmen, who laid the groundwork for the more recent ""greed is good"" era. (May)