Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Six Days in October

Six Days in October

Karen Blumenthal
For ages 12 and up
Atheneum, 2003   ISBN: 978-0689842764

For many the stock market and how it works is a mystery. What are stocks and bonds and how are they bought and sold? What is the Dow Jones Industrial? Why was there an enormous stock market crash in 1929? In this Wall Street Journal book these and many other questions are clearly and yet not condescendingly explained. What the author has succeeded in doing is making us realize how extraordinary both the people and the times were. In the "Roaring '20's" speculating on the stock market was, to many, almost a game. It was also thought to be a sure thing. Stocks would always go up. Even if there was a fall, they would always recover and continue their climb skyward. Money was there to be made by all. It was seen as being almost madness not to speculate on the stock market and everyone from the multimillionaire to the elevator boy was doing it. What was now, in retrospect, so frightening about all of this speculating, was that everyone was borrowing to do it. Real cash in hand was rare. Investors borrowed, brokers borrowed, banks borrowed, corporations borrowed. Both the Federal Reserve and the Government tried to curb what they saw as being speculation that could only lead to trouble, but their efforts were countered by those who wanted to see the speculation continue.

There were leaders on Wall Street who had their own agendas and it is these agendas that one doesn't often hear about. These leaders were Richard Mitchell, Michael Meehan, Thomas Lamont, William Durant, Albert Wiggin, and Richard Whitney. These were the men who took it upon themselves to play God with the stock market and they did not want to see their efforts hampered in any way. They were making money and the rush of speculation was good for business.

It is the meticulous attention to the details about the lives and activities of these men which contributes to making this book unique and also powerful. What also adds to this are the personal stories of some of the people who were speculators, and who later were badly hurt by the stock market crash of 1929. One such person was a car salesman who ended up doing so well on the stock market that he sold his car business and became a speculator full time. After the crash the salesman had to go back to his old life and start all over again. Another speculator was Groucho Marx, the great comedian. Marx made enormous sums of money on the market and loved playing the game with his brothers. Unfortunately he had no business sense and he lost everything when the crash hit Wall Street. His losses affected the rest of his life.

Most experts now agree that the crash was inevitable. What is interesting is that no one can really say what triggered the first serious fall in the value of stocks on October 24. What happened next were six days of panic, fear, hope, confusion and the loss of countless nest-eggs and hard-earned savings. One day the money was there and the next it was gone. People's lives were devastated. We read about the key financial players who tried to shore up the stock market during these days by buying stocks, hoping to boost confidence in Wall Street and in investing as a whole. We also later read how many of these same financial kings were found to have illegally benefited from their activities on the stock market in one way or another. We also discover that though the stock market crash of 1929 did not cause the Great Depression, as is so often thought, it was one of the main contributing causes to that national tragedy.