Friday, October 24, 2008

Towers of Gold


I heard Frances Dinkelspiel talk about her new book, Towers of Gold, in Berkeley last night. It's the story of I.W. Hellman, the West Coast banker and longtime UC regent who seemed to have a hand in virtually every major business development in California from the late nineteenth century to 1920.

The title refers to an incident during the financial collapse of 1893, when bank failures threatened to paralyze the credit markets. (Sound familiar?) Hellman transported his own money--bags of gold coins--by train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The bags were stacked up in his bank, and the throng saw that Hellman's towers of gold could cover his bank's deposits. Another testament to the power of ocular proof.

I first heard about Frances's book a year or so ago. I knew Hellman was her great-great-grandfather, but until recently I didn't know she had two decades of newspaper experience, a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia, and a terrific story on her hands.

Her presentation last night was an adroit combination of personal narrative and complete control over the historical material. And who knew that the book would drop while the media spotlight is shining brightly on the world of high finance? (In one of many tantalizing asides, Frances noted Hellman's connection to the Lehman brothers, his in-laws.)

Can't wait to read it.

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