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The Financier by Theodore Dreiser
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The Financier (1912)

by Theodore Dreiser

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Trilogy of Desire (1)

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“In short, he was one of those early, daring manipulators who later were to seize upon other and even larger phases of American natural development for their own aggrandizement.”
― Theodore Dreiser, The Financier

If there was ever a novel spotlighting American character, this is it. Theodore Dreiser goes right to the heart of the heart of American business and industry with this novel featuring Frank Cowperwood, a man who is a financial genius and leader by instinct and by nature. In this first of the Cowperwood trilogy, the author sets his tale in 19th century horse-and-buggy Philadelphia. Reading this novel is one memorable experience: it is as if you are right there in Philadelphia with Cowperwood and all the other men and women, walking the streets, sitting in on business meetings, living the cycle of work-a-day everyday life.

What does it take to grow up to be a captain of industry, to amass fortune and wealth beyond measure, to be a titan among men? Here is how Dreiser describes his main character, “Frank Cowperwood, even at ten, was a natural-born leader. . . . he was looked upon as one whose common sense could unquestionably be trusted in all cases. He was a sturdy youth, courageous and defiant. . . From the very start of life, he wanted to know about economics and politics. He cared nothing for books.” I mention ‘cared nothing for books’ since anybody reading this review presumably is, like myself, a reader of books. Well, that’s what separates bookworms like us from Mr. Frank – we enjoy curling up with a good book far from the maddening crowd; Frank enjoys being at the center of the maddening crowd, giving exacting orders a mile a minute and making money, lots of money.

Dreiser writes how as a boy Frank wondered how life was organized and found his answer watching the drama in a merchant’s fish tank, a drama taking place over the course of several days, that of a lobster hunting and finally killing and eating a squid. This incident made a profound impression on young Frank. He finally understood how life works: life feeds on life, one animal feeds on another animal, men feed on other men. The animals and men who are the best equipped and the strongest will win. This raw-boned naturalism and what would come to be known as Social Darwinism would remain Frank Cowperwood’s unswerving view of life.

Although Cowperwood is a financial wizard, a man who masters the world of money and the game of influencing people the way those top Castilians in Hermann Hesse’s ‘The Glass Bead Game’ master their game of mathematical-musical metaphysics, his life expands in other ways, particularly in his appreciation of visual beauty, the beauty of women and the beauty of art. Here are the author’s words on Cowperwood’s collecting art objects in his new home: “He foresaw a home which would be chaste, soothing, and delightful to look upon. If he hung pictures, gilt frames were to be the setting large and deep: and if he wished a picture-gallery, the library could be converted into that, and the general living-room, which lay between the library and the parlor on the second-floor, could be turned into a combination library and living-room.”

Back on Cowperwood’s appreciation of the beauty of women. Without going into the particulars of the women involved, it is worth highlighting how his relationship with women brings him into conflict with others, usually older men and women, who hold to traditional moral and religious values. Indeed, this contrast between the America of religious believers and the America of the naturalistic, materialistic non-believers like Cowperwood is part of Dreiser’s overarching social commentary. When men confront Cowperwood with religion and morals, he simply replies that they have one view of life and he has quite another.

For 500 pages we follow Cowperwood through his ups of amassing millions and downs of losing millions and then up again. Toward the end of the novel, he muses, “I am as rich as I was, and only a little older. They caught me once but thy will not catch me again.” He realizes his life destiny, his life meaning, is one of grandeur, one of tremendous wealth and influence and that his future lies well beyond the city limits of Philadelphia, in a city to the west, a city providing ample financial elbow room and entrepreneurial leg room to accord with his ambition and his magnificence. The 19th century thinker Friedrich Nietzsche said, “We should face our destiny with courage.” Frank Cowperwood was no reader of philosophy, but he would have wholeheartedly agreed with the German philosopher on this point.
( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Мотивирует!!!
Приоткрывает занавеси мира политических и экономических афер, политических игр, избирательных должностей и серых кардиналов. Для безискусного обывателя это своего рода откровение, вполне уместное и в наше время.
Книга является лучшей из трилогии, задающей ритм. Читается на одном дыхании и требует продолжения)) ( )
  Billy.Jhon | Apr 25, 2016 |
Dreiser's book looks at the fall of a financial speculator in the late 19th century. Although the story is over-long and becomes tedious towards the end, it is a great way to learn about US economic history. The book is strongly recommended for people interested in 19th century American history.

I actually read this as part of another book called "The Essential Anthology of American Realism" but have not yet been able to finish the entire Anthology - it is too heavy a dose of realism. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 13, 2016 |
The Financier, the first book in a trilogy by Theodore Dreiser, chronicles the life the Frank Cowperwood. The story is set in late 19th century Philadelphia. Cowperwood is a smart, ruthless businessman who cares for nothing other than making money. When he finds a more desirable and younger woman, he has no problem disposing of his wife and children. He has no conscience and no moral compass. His ambition and greed lead him to make unethical deals which land him in prison. Aileen, Cowperwood's equally selfcentered girlfriend, waits for him to finish his prison term and the two start anew in Chicago. The character of Frank Cowperwood is based on the life of Charles Yerkes, a financier from Philadelphia who amassed his fortunes in railroads. ( )
  KatherineGregg | Mar 10, 2016 |
Given the havoc that bankers and financiers cause in society, it is remarkable that hardly any information on what a financier is can be found on for instance Wikipedia, other than that they are people who make their money through investments. It is therefore hard to quickly determine how far back the history of financiers goes, the Renaissance, probably; the South Sea Bubble of 1720 is often cited as one of the first great speculation scandals.

Reading The financier (1912) by Theodore Dreiser gives readers an uncanny sense of recognition, as the main character of the novel, Frank Cowperwood could just have sprung up from the pages of a contemporary newspaper, or e-Reader, for that matter.

The financier is the first volume in a trilogy, but can very well be read on its own. It describes a complete cycle of fortune, misfortune and recovery of Cowperwood. As a son of a banker, nonetheless, young Frank set out to make his fortune all by himself, starting very modestly by buying a chest of soap and selling it at a profit. In the first twelve chapters, the novel develops rapidly, seeing young Cowperwood setting up as a brokerage, at first as a partner and increasingly independently, running across Mr Butler's pretty young daughter, as early as in chapter 12.

As a young, and upcoming financier, he marries the affluent widow, several years his senior. In his burgeoning wealth, Cowperwood buys a house, soon to be replaced by a more magnificent mansion, decorated by a fashionable architect, Ellsworth.

Young Cowperwood begins an affair with the young Aileen Butler; her father has them shadowed by private detectives and leaks evidence of adultery to Cowperwood's wife. The hatred of old Mr Butler knows no boundaries and he is bent on destroying Cowperwood, and separating him from his daughter.

Growing wealthy through the Civil War Years, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 leads to Cowperwood's bankruptcy, as he is unable to find money to financy his creditors. The financial crisis caused by the Fire leads to the uncovering of a network of illicit borrowings and speculation with money from the city's Treasury. Cowperwood is made a scapegoat and goes to jail.

His lover, Aileen, visits him in jail and remains loyal until he is released two years later. Money works in jail to ease some of the discomfort. Soon after his release, Cowperwood starts with new energy to recoop his lost wealth.

Although the novel starts and developes rapidly, the story is dragged out throughout the bankruptcy and jail episodes. Nonetheless, the novel seems to need this volume, and it never seems too wordy or lengthy. The novel is simply elaborate and descriptive in great detail, but it seems appropriate to tell the story with so much detail. It certainly helps to be interested or even a bit knowledgeable in the world of finance, to know the difference between various types of financiers and financial services, and the bulk of the story is developed in this environment.

Frank Cowperwood is portrait as a sympathetic financier, whose passion for Aileen seems sincere, although his earlier marriage to the rich widow was probably not. He is a man of good taste. The other characters, old Mr Cowperwood, Mr Butler and other characters, such as Stener are all described in psychologically very convincing portraits, and the tragedy of the novel is sufficiently moving.

While not the easiest novel to read, The financier is still very rewarding. ( )
  edwinbcn | Nov 15, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Theodore Dreiserprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kazin, AlfredIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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THE PHILADELPHIA into which Frank Algernon Cowperwood was born was a city of two hundred and fifty thousand and more. It was set with handsome parks, notable buildings, and crowded with his- toric memories. Many of the things that we and he knew later were not then in existence—the telegraph, telephone, express company, ocean steamer, city delivery of mails. There were no postage-stamps or registered letters. The street car had not arrived. In its place were hosts of omnibuses, and for longer travel the slowly developing rail- road system still largely connected by canals.
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It (the law) was a miasma of misinterpretation where the ills of life festered, and also a place where the accidentally wounded were ground between the upper and the nether millstones of force or chance.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452008255, Paperback)

Based on the life of flamboyant financier C.T. Yerkes, Dreiser's portrayal of the unscrupulous magnate Cowperwood embodies the idea that behind every great fortune there is a crime. You don't read Dreiser for literary finesse, but his great intensity and keen journalistic eye give this portrait a powerful reality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:25 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The Financier is a nuanced portrait of one of the greatest characters in twentieth-century literature. Based on the life of railway tycoon Charles Tyson Yerkes, the epic narrative spans from the aftermath of the Civil War to the Great Chicago Fire and the Panic of 1873. Both a glimpse of a fascinating period in American history and a timeless portrait of the dark side of human nature, this is the compelling tale the Wall Street Journal hailed as "the greatest of all American business novels ... [with] an amazingly intricate description of high-rolling 19th-century finance." This ebook has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.… (more)

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