The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach
Doubleday, 2012 (bound galley); 276 pages
Note: I received this book as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.
Before picking up this book, I had never heard of Hetty Green, who inherited and invested her way to an estate that at the time of her death in 1916, was worth over $2 billion in today's money. She did this at a time when women were not supposed to be involved in business and certainly not in Wall Street. Green's favored strategy was buy low, sell high, and she also made her money go farther by living a plain and frugal life at a time when people with comparable wealth were living extravagantly.
Throughout the book, Wallach uses an odd mix of formal and conversational language, as if she couldn't decide whether her audience should be academic or popular. She goes into great detail on trivial aspects of Green's life, while glossing over major events. In areas where there is little information on Green's life, Wallach brings in anecdotes of the period, but does not connect these anecdotes to Green in a clear or meaningful way. Her writing style is extremely passive. There are a few typographical errors, but since I received a bound galley rather than a final copy of the book, I hope these have been corrected in the final version. A major flaw is that black people are nearly always referred to as "colored" or "Negro," even in passages written by Wallach that are not quotes from the period. Even though these were common and accepted terms in the nineteenth century, they should not be used for what appears to be no good reason in a modern work.