Goldman Sachs, once an investment bank, has gone through very interesting times in its 130 years of existence. There has not yet been a comprehensive book that traces, analyses and puts into perspective the behemoth that became synonymous with high-flying dealmakers and aggressiveness on Wall Street.

Charles D. Ellis, who for 30 years was a managing partner of Greenwich Associates, an international strategy consulting company, has attempted a-first-of-its-kind and has put together a page-turner. His insights go beyond deal-making capabilities of Goldman partners. It delves into the minds of men who made investment banking a religion in Goldman; their creative finance options, which were radical at those times, and a vision that would be a benchmark for any financial firm.

Ellis reveals the inside story of the firm’s survival capacities. From financial storms of the 1929 Wall Street crash and the Great Depression and Robert Maxwell’s abusive frauds to insider trading scandals and the recent subprime meltdown. The company that we know today was unable to break into what was the major part of securities business in the early 20th century — underwriting the new bond and stock issues of the rapidly expanding, cash-hungry railroads. Marcus Goldman, a German-Jewish immigrant, and his son-in-law Samuel Sachs turned it into a financial giant in the niche market of financing small businesses in the 1890s.

It was a time when the US was morphing into an economic giant and spending on underwritings on infrastructure were a rage. This was dominated by the likes of JPMorgan, Kuhn Loeb and Spreyer & Co., who even told Henry Goldman that they will do whatever it takes them to prevent his firm from getting any part of this large and lucrative business.

Ironically, this proved to be fortunate. If Goldman had concentrated its energy there, it would have struggled for years to build up a share of a business that had already peaked; and like in any economics theory, after...

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