In his latest book, “Trust” (Riverhead), Hernan Diaz, the essayist and author of the novel “In the Distance,” tells the story of the one of the richest men in the world – or rather four stories, as each paints a different portrait of a young stock trader whose almost-supernatural financial intuition leads to untold wealth and the “vulgar burden” of luxury.
Read an excerpt below.
It was not hard to find a buyer for his father’s business. Benjamin encouraged a manufacturer from Virginia and a trading company from the United Kingdom to outbid each other. Wishing to distance himself from that part of his past, he was pleased to see the British prevail, thus sending the tobacco company whence it had come. But what truly gratified him was that with the profits from this sale he was able to work on a higher plane, manage a new level of risk, and finance long-term transactions he had been unable to consider in the past. Those around him were confused to see his possessions decrease in direct proportion to his wealth. He sold all remaining family properties, including the brownstone on West 17th Street, and everything in them. His clothes and papers fit into two trunks, which were sent to the Wagstaff Hotel, where he took a suite of rooms.
He became fascinated by the contortions of money—how it could be made to bend back upon itself to be force-fed its own body. The isolated, self-sufficient nature of speculation spoke to his character and was a source of wonder and an end in itself, regardless of what the increasing numbers represented or afforded him. Luxury was a vulgar burden. The access to new experiences was not something his sequestered spirit craved. Politics and the pursuit of power played no part in his unsocial mind. Games of strategy, like chess or bridge, had never interested him. If asked, Benjamin would probably have found it hard to explain what drew him to the world of finance. It was the complexity of it, yes, but also the fact that he viewed capital as an antiseptically living thing. It moves, eats, grows, breeds, falls ill, and may die. But it is clean. This became clearer to him in time. The larger the operation, the further removed he was from its concrete details. There was no need for him to touch a single banknote or engage with the things and people his transaction affected. All he had to do was think, speak, and, perhaps, write. And the living creature would be set in motion, drawing beautiful patterns on its way into realms of increasing abstraction, sometimes following appetites of its own that Benjamin never could have anticipated—and this gave him some additional pleasure, the creature trying to exercise its free will. He admired it and understood it, even when it disappointed him.
Excerpted from “Trust” by Hernan Diaz. Copyright © 2022 by Hernan Diaz. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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