Hetty Green was America's first female tycoon. My previous knowledge of her life was largely limited to the rather shallow exaggerations of her extreme frugality and the fact that the estimated size of her fortune at the time of her death to America's GDP at the time is similar to that of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
As is often the case, the truth is more complex. Author Charles Slack paints the portrait of a woman who possessed many traits, including the extreme frugality for which she is best known, an obsession with money and an extremely good track record as an investor - holding a very diversified portfolio of assets, avoiding debt and being disciplined enough to avoid market euphoria and profit from market panics. During the crisis of 1907 when JP Morgan (and others) were intervening to stem the panic, she was the only woman involved. Much of her financial education came from her father, Edward Robinson, who built a fortune initially based on whaling which Hetty would eventually inherit most of.
Hetty makes for interesting reading. Although the book lacks some of the depth of other biographies I have read, I suspect that this is in a large part due to Hetty herself - she was an only child, had only two children and no grandchildren, she largely avoided becoming involved in contentious transactions (a few law suits notwithstanding), didn't control any companies and avoided high society for most of her life. '
It was somewhat ironic that after her daughter Sylvia died, the fortune that Hetty had so vigorously enlarged and defended was bequeathed to a large number of charities.
All in all, an enjoyable read.