During my recent stints on airplanes over Christmas, I actually did get in some reading, not all of it science fiction and fantasy. In some ways, the most interesting book I read was Dark Genius of Wall Street, The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons, by Edward J. Renehan, Jr. This is not a book I’d recommend to most people. It’s filled with the details of 19th century financial manipulations and complex transactions, but it provides great insight into the men and institutions who, in many ways, shaped the framework of today’s world. Gould was generally regarded as a scheming and unprincipled scoundrel. The details shared by Renehan suggest that he was no more a scoundrel, and perhaps no less, and actually more principled than at least some of his contemporaries, not that such is necessarily an accolade, given the times, compared to other tycoons who are revered today. One fact I found most intriguing was that Gould was not only a philanthropist, but that the vast majority of his philanthropy was accomplished during his lifetime… and that one of the conditions was that his name and gifts never be revealed publicly, possibly because his largess would have undermined his reputation as a cold-hearted, scheming bastard. From the book, he was “only” a calculating, driven, schemer who fought a frail constitution and ill-health most of his comparatively short life.
Other books I read worth my mentioning were The First Fifteen Lives of Harry North by Claire North, Impersonations: A Story of the Praxis, by Walter Jon Williams, and The Fold by Peter Clines.