We live in a golden age of financial journalism. Michael Lewis, Gretchen Morgenson, James Stewart, William Cohan, Jesse Eisinger, Jake Bernstein, those fellows at Bloomberg: They’ve turned the business page and business books into required reading, and sometimes thrilling entertainment.
But this style of reporting isn't new. It began in the '60s -- the 1860s -- with the work of one man. He was a relentless investigator, a witty writer, a teller of gripping tales, America’s first great financial journalist.
And he was completely wrong. Or so we’d say now.
His name was Charles Francis Adams Jr. Perhaps you’ve heard of his grandfather, John Quincy Adams, or his great-grandfather, John Adams. In school, you might have been assigned the autobiography of his younger brother, "The Education of Henry Adams."
In the late 19th century, Charles was the Adams that Americans read most.
He had a career unimaginable to journalists today. As the son of Boston’s first family, he was expected to go to Harvard, and he did, cutting up on stage with the Hasty Pudding Club. When the Civil War began, he turned his family name into a commission as a Union cavalry officer. After the war, he became a railroad regulator, a successful investor, a less successful president of the Union Pacific Railroad, chairman of the Massachusetts Parks Commission and president of the American Historical Association.
And, for a few years between soldiering and regulating, he emerged as America’s best writer about railroads and finance.
In his photos, Charles looks at the camera with cynical eyes, set between a big, bald pate and a neatly trimmed mustache and pointy imperial-style beard. An intellectual and political aristocrat, hardened by war, he wrote witty prose with a sardonic tone....MORE