WALL STREET: A HISTORY, by Charles R. Geisst, Oxford University Press, 404 pages, $30.

In this first complete history of Wall Street, economic historian Charles Geisst examines the role Wall Street played in making the United States the most powerful economic force in the world. Spanning two centuries, from just after the end of the Revolutionary War, through the Civil War, the California Gold Rush, the stock market crash of 1929, and up to the junk bond frenzy and merger mania of the 1980s, Geisst provides an inside look at an institution that has become “an almost universal symbol of both the highest aspirations of commercial success and the basest impulses of greed and deception.” The author also offers details of the lives of some of the colorful personalities and ruthless wheeler-dealers, such as Jay Gould, John Jacob Astor, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who have dominated the market.