David Zimmerman, Upton Sinclair, Thomas Lawson — novels and social impact

Reading can incite a panic

by Mike Ivey

Think the analysts on CNBC can move financial markets by recommending a particular stock? Imagine America at the beginning of the 20th century, when novelists had the power to incite a major stock market panic.

“Panic! Markets, Crises, and Crowds in American Fiction,” by David Zimmerman, an associate professor of English at UW-Madison, takes a look at the genre of financial fiction that gripped the public during those early days of corporate capitalism….

Zimmerman’s 294-page effort from the University of North Carolina Press recounts some well-know authors, like socialist Upton Sinclair, whose book “The Moneychangers” offered a behind-the-scenes look at the panic of 1907. While “The Moneychangers” follows the conventional financial conspiracy script of banking titans doing evil, it also points fingers at those who participate.

Zimmerman also introduces us to people like Thomas Lawson, the most feared stock promoter, muckraker and novelist in the U.S. at the turn of the century. In 1904, Lawson published an announcement that triggered a panic that wiped out almost a half-billion in market value in three days, convincing him he could produce a more disastrous panic that would topple the nation’s financial structure….

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