Ferdinand Ward was the greatest swindler of the Gilded Age Through his unapologetic villainy, he bankrupted Ulysses S Grant and ran roughshod over the entire world of finance Now, his compelling, behind the scenes story is told told by his great grandson, award winning historian Geoffrey C WardWard was the Bernie Madoff of his day, a supposed genius at making big money fast on Wall Street who turned out to have been running a giant pyramid scheme one that ultimately collapsed in one of the greatest financial scandals in American history The son of a Protestant missionary and small town pastor with secrets of his own to keep, Ward came to New York at twenty one and in less than a decade, armed with charm, energy, and a total lack of conscience, made himself the business partner of the former president of the United States and was widely hailed as the Young Napoleon of Finance In truth, he turned out to be a complete fraud, his entire life marked by dishonesty, cowardice, and contempt for anything but his own interestsDrawing from thousands of family documents never before examined, Geoffrey C Ward traces his great grandfather s rapid rise to riches and fame and his even dizzying fall from grace There are mistresses and mansions along the way fast horses and crooked bankers and corrupt New York officials courtroom confrontations and six years in Sing Sing and Ferdinand s desperate scheme to kidnap his own son to get his hands on the estate his late wife had left the boy Here is a great story about a classic American con artist, told with boundless charm and dry wit by one of our finest historians


10 thoughts on “A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States

  1. Audrey Audrey says:

    Geoffrey C Ward, a well renowned historian, especially regarding the work he has completed with Ken Burns , painstakingly pieced together a magnificent retelling of his infamous great grandpa, Ferd Ward Ferd was a sociopath who would stop at nothing to cheat folks out of their money even an ex President war hero U.S Grant and his own flesh n blood son, Clarence It is a wild ride to read this story, to say the least I enjoyed how G.C Ward started out by telling the tale of Ferd s parents Geoffrey C Ward, a well renowned historian, especially regarding the work he has completed with Ken Burns , painstakingly pieced together a magnificent retelling of his infamous great grandpa, Ferd Ward Ferd was a sociopath who would stop at nothing to cheat folks out of their money even an ex President war hero U.S Grant and his own flesh n blood son, Clarence It is a wild ride to read this story, to say the least I enjoyed how G.C Ward started out by telling the tale of Ferd s parents and siblings it really shed light on a lot of threads that could connect to create Ferd s personality It takes a brave person to shake out those skeletons in the closet and reveal them for all to witness Not that Ferd was unknown for his financial infidelities in his day, but he is not a usual figure within the history textbooks I was dumbfounded and fascinated by this book The research and detail was wonderful I would reccommend this book to not only history buffs, but to those who are curious about human nature in general, and the WHY behind how some people are driven to do the things they do


  2. Nicole Marble Nicole Marble says:

    Author Ward mines his own family for a fascinating story it seems one of his ancestors was rather similar to Bernie Madoff.It makes on wonder about geneology perhaps one might not want to know such things about ones ancestors.But, an excellent and long book If you get tired of it, don t put it down without reading the last surprising chapter.


  3. Tom Tom says:

    Did we really need to find out about the author s missionary ancesots Their tales could be edited out to focus on the main character.


  4. Catherine Woodman Catherine Woodman says:

    The subtitle of the book, which is a bit of a run on sentence, is like the executive summary for the book How a Small Town Pastor s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best Hated Man in the United States I can t speak to the best hated man part, but the rest of it is not an exaggeration The book is about the life of Ferdinand Ward, and it was written by his great grandson, so there was excellent access to family records, as well as to peopl The subtitle of the book, which is a bit of a run on sentence, is like the executive summary for the book How a Small Town Pastor s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best Hated Man in the United States I can t speak to the best hated man part, but the rest of it is not an exaggeration The book is about the life of Ferdinand Ward, and it was written by his great grandson, so there was excellent access to family records, as well as to people who knew the man himself The book contains the usual stuff of biographies an examination of the background and family that might have adversely influenced a man who grew up to be a successful con man and a sociopath to the end.Whether or not Ferd had the makings of a man who wrecked havoc before the Civil War, the events of the war did nothing to improve his character In 1863, the young Ferdinand Ward was alone with his mother in their parsonage in Geneseo, N.Y., his minister father and older brother both off to war and his older sister visiting relatives out of town Diphtheria swept through the village, killing friends and neighbors, and each mail delivery carried the risk of disaster Ferd was exposed to the quixotic nature of death, and that life contains no guarantees And his mother didn t help any She had a religious zealot s dour view of the secular world and of the wages of sin Hers was not a reassuring presence during those fearful days, and under her tutelage, young Ferd absorbed a lesson that would mark the sweep of his adult life No one should expect virtue, no matter how conspicuous, ever to be rewarded in this world That, combined with a narcissism that was truly impressive, became the calling card of his life He deserved what he could beg, borrow, and steal from people He married well, parlayed his wife s money and standing into an investment firm, an associated bank, and the influence of Ulysses S Grant, the ex President and Civil War hero After the whole scam goes down the tubes, the Grant families lose everything Ulysses lives in a house that he no longer owns, and occupies through the kindness of the new owner His sons both lose their homes Ferd, showing no remorse, starts to go after what money is left of his wife s estate, which she has wisely tied up in the hands of others It is in some ways the tale of the classic con man But in others, it is a reminder that we want to belief what is too good to be true, and that the greed of man is infinite Our most recent brush with disaster was at the hands of men like Ferd, men who took everything they could get and had absolutely no regard for others These sorts of men are alive and well.As Shakespeare so aptly put it, hell is empty, all the devils are here


  5. Louise Louise says:

    Author Geoffrey Ward tells the reader from the start Ferdinand Ward was my great grandfather Usually books written about a forbear salute their great accomplishments This is the only biography I know of, where the forbear is a scoundrel These stories are usually left to someone else.Many biographies begin with the subject s childhood This one begins with the lives of the subject s parents i.e the author s great great grandparents and something of their parents This is significant becau Author Geoffrey Ward tells the reader from the start Ferdinand Ward was my great grandfather Usually books written about a forbear salute their great accomplishments This is the only biography I know of, where the forbear is a scoundrel These stories are usually left to someone else.Many biographies begin with the subject s childhood This one begins with the lives of the subject s parents i.e the author s great great grandparents and something of their parents This is significant because it builds on the author s introductory comment that Ferdinand Ward tuned out eerily to mirror the distorted personalities of the missionary parents who raised him The subject s parents, Ferdinand Ward, Sr., and his wife Jane Shaw Ward, were insufferably self righteous While you might expect missionary life to be a perfect fit for their piety, it wasn t While in India, the Wards continued to seek better housing than their peers They tried to pick and choose their assignments They shunned people for very petty reasons They seemed to have no regard for the feelings or contributions of others Back in the States, Ferdinand Ward, Sr caused trouble wherever he went.It is Jane Shaw Ward who gives the book its title She says this of her son in one of her supremely out of touch letters Jane Ward had a curious relationship with wealth She inherited some it doesn t say where it went maybe bailing out her son maybe it was preserved which she hid from her husband s congregation Her letters show not just dissatisfaction with her situation, but self pitying envy of the life styles she attributes to others.Perhaps it is because Ferdinand Ward, Sr was shunned by his family for going to India instead of leading a church parish that his father preferred, that he continued to defend his own son whose life had little to do with the values he preached.The reader benefits from the author s unique access to primary sources his grandfather, Clarence Ward, who was kidnapped and hounded by his father for the small wealth his mother was able to shield on his behalf and a trunk that held significant documents regarding Geoffrey Ward s great grandfather s dealings.The Ferdinand Ward scandal is fascinating on its own, but the family context makes this book stand out It may set a new standard for biographies because it demonstrates how generational linkage can be portrayed I highly recommend this to general readers of history and biography.Comment


  6. rmn rmn says:

    This is a phenomenally interesting read which is part biography, part character study, and part period piece of the US in the mid to late 1800s from the point of view of both a regular ish family and rich New Yorkers on Wall Street.The book tells the story of Ferdinand Ward who was the late 19th Century s Bernie Madoff, but not only did Ward bilk investors out of millions, he also somehow snookered former President Ulysses S Grant in to being his business partner So it s like if Bernie Madoff This is a phenomenally interesting read which is part biography, part character study, and part period piece of the US in the mid to late 1800s from the point of view of both a regular ish family and rich New Yorkers on Wall Street.The book tells the story of Ferdinand Ward who was the late 19th Century s Bernie Madoff, but not only did Ward bilk investors out of millions, he also somehow snookered former President Ulysses S Grant in to being his business partner So it s like if Bernie Madoff had gone in to business with Bill Clinton and used him to both help raisemoney and to give his investing the air of legitimacy A really fascinating read, especially the realization that Wall Street hasn t changed one bit in over 120 years People were just as greedy back then, looked for just as many get rich quick schemes, and suffered from the same incredible hubris that eventually led to their downfalls The similarities with today are striking.The story is rich pun intended and the writing is lively enough that it reads like fiction And what makes it all theinteresting is that the book was written by Ferdinand s great grandson who had access to source documents and materials beyond what anyone else would have had Highly recommended


  7. Michael Kearney Michael Kearney says:

    Just an excellent tale of woe in the victorian age I thought the author great grandson of the subject was very objective and minimized any opinions that the current generations of Wards had I tried to imagine my g grandfather as a well known crook A very interesting possition The book gives few details of the end of Ferd s life I would have liked to see the entire picture Also absent was over enthusiast on all the potential openings for psycho analysis I think that is the sign of a grea Just an excellent tale of woe in the victorian age I thought the author great grandson of the subject was very objective and minimized any opinions that the current generations of Wards had I tried to imagine my g grandfather as a well known crook A very interesting possition The book gives few details of the end of Ferd s life I would have liked to see the entire picture Also absent was over enthusiast on all the potential openings for psycho analysis I think that is the sign of a great piece of work Let it speak for itself


  8. Teri Teri says:

    I really enjoyed this book I learned so much about history and I was fascinated with the lives of all those involved Couldn t believe how loyal the Ward family was to their son brother People are crazy and some things never change There s nothing new under the sun when it comes to deception and power Different era, same problems today


  9. Edward Frantz Edward Frantz says:

    An engrossing read a truly amazing story Academics might not find it analytical enough, but everyone else will just find themselves mesmerized by a tale that involves some of the biggest names in the Gilded Age, including President Grant And, importantly, the book shows how pyramid schemes have been part of American life for longer than many realize.


  10. Donna Campbell Donna Campbell says:

    I really enjoyed this book.