Although Sobel ( The Big Board ) records such "innovations" as the Merrill Lynch small-investors-in-volume sales approach, Louis Wolfson's "conglomerate" pioneering and the corporate raidings of Boone Pickens, Sobel's liveliest concern here is the controversial "junk-bond" market of the 1980s and its star performer, Michael Milken. In a notably balanced chronicle, Sobel weighs government pressure (e.g., Milken was U.S. Attorney Rudolph Guiliani's "ultimate target") in the demise of Drexel Burnham Lambert against the junk-bond deregulation connection in the S & L debacles. Sobel also points to Milken's deft facilitation through pooled financing of still-flourishing business start-ups, and he implicitly questions the so-called "Fatico hearings" which allow a sentencing judge, as in Milken's case, to admit the presentation of evidence without an indictment.
Sobel, an author of several books on Wall Street, here chronicles the tales of four financial innovators who all pioneered some financial wrinkle: Louis Wolfson, in corporate takeovers; Charles Merrill, in "people's capitalism" (stock ownership); and James Ling, in conglomerates. As Sobel sees it, these three were precursors of Michael Milken, who masterminded the junk (high yield/risk) bonds. Once considered one of the nation's most influential businessmen, Milken has stirred strong feelings among both admirers and critics. Sobel here challenges most of what are perceived as Milken's sins, pointing out the importance of his role in financing companies that could not have otherwise obtained funds (MCI, CNN, etc.). Sobel calls Milken's prosecution a prolonged witch hunt that in effect made him the scapegoat for various unpleasant financial excesses of the Eighties. Most libraries will want this informative and entertaining work. - Alex Wenner, Indiana Univ. Libs., Bloomington
Robert Sobel (February 19, 1931 – June 2, 1999) was an American professor of history at Hofstra University and a well-known and prolific writer of business histories.
Sobel was born in the Bronx, in New York City, New York. He completed his B.S.S. (1951) and M.A. (1952) at City College of New York, and after serving in the U.S. Army, obtained a Ph.D. from New York University in 1957. He started teaching at Hofstra in 1956. Sobel eventually became Lawrence Stessin Distinguished Professor of Business History atHofstra. After his death, the university established the Robert Sobel Endowed Scholarship for Excellence in Business History and Finance.
Sobel's first business history, published in 1965, was The Big Board: A History of the New York Stock Market. It was the first history of the stock market written in over a generation. The book was met with favorable reviews, and solid sales, and Sobel's writing career was launched. Several of his subsequent books were best sellers.
Besides writing more than 30 books, Sobel authored many articles, book reviews, and scripts for television documentaries and mini-series. From 1972 to 1988, Sobel's weekly investment column, "Knowing the Street," was nationally syndicated through New York Newsday. He was also regularly published in national periodicals, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. At the time of his death, Sobel was also a contributing editor to Barron's Magazine. He was a regular guest on financial and other news shows, such as Wall Street Week and Crossfire.
Sobel was almost as famous for his only work of fiction, the 1973 book, For Want of a Nail. This book is an alternate history in which Burgoyne won the Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolutionary War. This work detailed the history of an alternate timeline, complete with footnotes. Sobel had authored, or co-authored, several actual text books. For Want of a Nail was republished in 1997 and won a special achievement Sidewise Award for Alternate History that year.
Sobel's dominant passion was Wall Street, a fascination that he held since his childhood. "It is as though you are walking through a historical theme park, with this engaging man at your side pointing out the sights," said Andrew Tobias, the author and investment guide, in a review in The New York Times of The Last Bull Market: Wall Street in the 1960s (W. W. Norton, 1978).
Most of Sobel's books were written for a general audience, but he never bristled when some scholarly writers dismissed him as a "popularizer," said his colleague and friend George David Smith, a professor of economic history at New York University. "Quite the contrary—he saw that as his mission in life."