A Disposition to Be Rich
How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States
Ferdinand Ward was the Bernie Madoff of his generation—a supposed genius at making big money fast on Wall Street, who turned out to have been running a giant pyramid scheme that ultimately collapsed in one of the greatest financial scandals in American history. The son of a Protestant missionary and small-town pastor with secrets of his own to keep, Ward came to New York at twenty-one and in less than a decade, armed only with charm, energy, and a total lack of conscience, made himself the business partner of a former president of the United States and was widely hailed as the "Young Napoleon of Finance." In truth, he turned out to be a complete fraud, his entire life marked by dishonesty, cowardice, and contempt for anything but his own interests.
Drawing from thousands of never-before-examined family documents, Geoffrey C. Ward traces his great-grandfather's rapid rise to riches and fame, and his even more dizzying fall from grace. There are mistresses and mansions along the way; fast horses, crooked bankers, and corrupt New York officials; courtroom confrontations and six years in Sing Sing; and Ferdinand's desperate scheme to kidnap his own son to get his hands on the estate his late wife had left the boy. A Disposition to Be Rich is a great story about a classic American con artist, told with boundless charm and dry wit by one of our finest historians.