MICHAEL PERINO is the Dean George W. Matheson Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law. A former Wall Street litigator, Perino has testified in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives and has consulted with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is frequently quoted in the media on securities and corporate matters. He has appeared on NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Morning Edition," and "Marketplace," on "Bill Moyers’ Journal" on PBS, and on CNBC.
THE HELLHOUND OF WALL STREET
How Ferdinand Pecora's Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance
The Penguin Press – October 14, 2010
A gripping account of the underdog Senate lawyer who unmasked the financial wrongdoing that led to the Crash of 1929 and forever changed the relationship between Washington and Wall Street.
In The Hellhound of Wall Street, Michael Perino recounts in riveting detail the 1933 hearings that put Wall Street on trial for the Great Crash. Never before in American history had so many financial titans been called to account before the public, and they had come within a few weeks of emerging unscathed. By the time Ferdinand Pecora, a Sicilian immigrant and former New York prosecutor, took over as chief counsel, the investigation had dragged on ineffectively for nearly a year and was universally written off as dead.
The Hellhound of Wall Street provides a minute-by-minute account of the ten dramatic days when Pecora turned the hearings around, cross-examining the officers of National City Bank (today’s Citigroup), particularly its chairman, Charles Mitchell, one of the best known bankers of his day. Mitchell strode into the hearing room in obvious disdain for the proceedings, but he left utterly disgraced. Pecora’s rigorous questioning revealed that City Bank was guilty of shocking financial abuses, from selling worthless bonds to manipulating its stock price. Most offensive of all was the excessive compensation and bonuses awarded to its executives for peddling shoddy securities to the American public.
Pecora became an unlikely hero to a beleaguered nation. The man whom the press called “the hellhound of Wall Street” was the son of a struggling factory worker. Precocious and determined, he became one of New York’s few Italian American lawyers at a time when Italians were frequently stereotyped as anarchic criminals. The image of an immigrant lawyer challenging a blue-blooded Wall Street tycoon was just one more sign that a fundamental shift was taking place in America.
By creating the sensational headlines needed to galvanize public opinion for reform, the Pecora hearings spurred Congress to take unprecedented steps to rein in the freewheeling banking industry and led directly to the New Deal’s landmark economic reforms. A gripping courtroom drama with remarkable contemporary relevance, The Hellhound of Wall Street brings to life a crucial turning point in American financial history.
Praise for THE HELLHOUND OF WALL STREET
Winner of the 2011 Spear’s Book Award for Financial History
Library Journal Best Business Books of 2010
Bloomberg Favorite Business Book of 2010
“A page-turning history of how Ferdinand Pecora’s investigation into the Crash of 1929 helped lawmakers curb abuses on Wall Street.“—Bloomberg, Favorite Business Book of 2010
“A thorough, well-written history that shows how the past can be prologue.“—Kirkus Reviews
“Perino’s narrative is a lucid account of period banking and stock-market swindles and a crackerjack legal drama, as Pecora’s cunning, relentless questioning demolished the bankers’ evasions. (The Sicilian immigrant’s triumph over the WASP financial elite also heralded a social revolution, the author contends.) Perino’s book is a trenchant, entertaining study of the New Deal’s heroic beginnings, one with obvious relevance to latter-day efforts to rein in Wall Street’s excesses.“—Publishers Weekly
“Excellent…Perino’s description of the events of the investigation is nuanced without being tedious.“—Forbes
“Absolutely riveting! Michael Perino’s account of the 1933 Pecora hearings, the sensational revelations of shady business practices at the highest levels on Wall Street…, is a page turner. No one can read about the many excesses of Wall Street in the 1920s without being struck with the similarities to today and wondering why we have allowed history to repeat itself.“—Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers that Broke the World
“Spellbinding elegance…[a] gripping account of the events that culminated in the stunning hearings about the causes of the 1929 stock market crash and the financial failures of that period. An impressive substantive and literary achievement…Perino weaves an amazingly suspenseful account of the ten days of hearings that Pecora conducted probing the exploits of the country’s most powerful bank of the period. A must-read.“—Concurring Opinions
“Perino’s narrative style and reliance on primary sources make this a great selection for fans of history and economics and for those wanting more background on the tenuous relationship between Washington and Wall Street.“—Library Journal
“[A] page-turning history…Like a filmmaker, Perino cuts between squatter camps and the hearings.“—BusinessWeek
“Hats off to Michael Perino. The Hellhound of Wall Street is an excellent account of the Pecora hearings that should be read by everyone interested in financial reform. At the same time, it is a penetrating Wall Street morality tale that should evoke a strong sense of déjà vu in its readers.“—Charles R. Geisst, author of Collateral Damaged and Wall Street: A History
“The Hellhound of Wall Street is an incisive and timely book about a man and period in our country’s history when a presumptuous, reckless Wall Street elite, very much like the one that’s caused such ruin today, met its match. We badly need a second Ferdinand Pecora now. Michael Perino provides brilliant analysis, telling anecdotal material, and wears his deep erudition easily. He has given us a vital cautionary tale from the past that is a pure pleasure to read.“—Steve Fraser, author of Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life
“It has taken another economic melt-down to restore public recognition of Ferdinand Pecora as the most effective investigator of financial wrongdoing in American history. Michael Perino deftly recreates the dark days of 1933, when that shrewd New York prosecutor turned Senate committee counsel forced Wall Street’s biggest bankers and brokers to admit how they contributed to the nation’s slide into the Great Depression.“—Donald A. Ritchie, author of The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction
“Michael Perino’s new book powerfully amplifies our understanding of the pivotal role that Ferdinand Pecora played in leading the hearings that built the case for the New Deal’s securities and banking laws. The Hellhound of Wall Street is a masterful evocation of the politics, finance and personalities when Congress last addressed systematic reform of our financial system.“—Joel Seligman, author of The Transformation of Wall Street
“A brilliant and compelling account of how Ferdinand Pecora figured out—and exposed in nauseating detail—the malpractice of Wall Street. As we struggle to confront our modern financial demons, we should all pause to read and reflect on Michael Perino’s account.“—Simon Johnson, co-author of 13 Bankers
“A dazzling example of how to write financial history that is thick with drama and atmosphere, expertly placed in its historical context, and scrupulously fair-minded in assessing the merits of its hero… Perino deserves applause for disinterring a forgotten hero and illuminating a transformational moment in American financial history with tremendous brio.“—Spear’s
“…Pecora’s skill in taking the spirit of the early Depression and drawing from it hard facts and concrete evidence changed forever the relationship between Wall Street and Washington. This excellent book is timely in light of the 2008 turmoil in financial markets.”—Booklist
“Hats off to Michael Perino. The Hellhound of Wall Street is an excellent account of the Pecora hearings that should be read by everyone interested in financial reform. At the same time, it is a penetrating Wall Street morality tale that should evoke a strong sense of déja vu in its readers.” —Charles Geisst, author of Collateral Damaged and Wall Street: A History
Michael A. Perino discusses Ferdinand Pecora on Bill Moyers Journal
April 24, 2009