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Beginning with the "tulipomania" that gripped Holland in the 1630s, Chancellor chronicles the formations and irrational euphoria that can inflate markets, from shares of South Sea stock in England in the 1720s to real estate in Japan in the late 1980s. He characterizes the speculative spirit as one that
loves freedom, detests cant, and abhors restrictions. From the tulip Colleges of the seventeenth century to the Internet investment clubs of the late twentieth century, speculation has established itself as the most demotic of economic activities. Although profoundly secular, speculation is not simply about greed. The essence of speculation remains a Utopian yearning for freedom and equality which counterbalances the drab rationalistic materialism of the modern economic system with its inevitable inequalities of wealth.But it's precisely such inevitability that always seems to win out, when "sharply rising prices followed by sudden panic without cause" bring speculative excess to an abrupt end.
Chancellor makes Devil Take the Hindmost especially relevant to today's U.S. investors by using his analysis of past speculative manias as a lens through which to view the current bull-market binge. No matter what his or her current investment outlook is--bull or bear--anyone with capital to invest would do well to spend a thoughtful weekend with this book. Highly recommended. --Harry C. Edwards