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tv   Christopher Knowlton Bubble in the Sun  CSPAN  April 21, 2020 1:02am-1:31am EDT

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millions of people to florida in the 19 twenties and the development of the states wetlands. >> good evening everybody. thank you for joining us this evening to support your local independent bookstore maybe not so beautiful tonight. we appreciate you being here for that in the silent position we appreciate it. we will send you ever e-mails about what goes on here at this location i don't know if you've been down to coconut grove but we have a new store down there and another one worth mentioning on january 26
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you can buy tickets and any number of events you can visit us we do podcast with a lot of the authors usually do that by accessing the webpage. mr. christopher for knowlton and how it brought on the great depression. a former staff writer for fortune magazine and spent 13 years in the investment business the hidden history of the cowboy west. [applause]
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>> thank you steve and i appreciate you coming. it's good to be back in coral gables. it seems like just yesterday i was her researching the career the founder of coral gables for this book bubble in the sun. the book is about the roaring twenties in florida and more specifically about the land boom which you may know is the greatest land boom in american history. and as it happens one of the most impactful because of the role that it played leading up to the great depression. and as a writer i am specializing about the speculative frenzy my previous book cattle kingdom published
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2017 was about the open range cattle era after the siddle - - the civil war. and i discovered there is little more than the investment bubble of the 19 nineties. and with the young men to grow to california and went out to colorado and wyoming and montana to enjoy he cattle ranches. one of these was teddy roosevelt and when i began prospecting i hit on the land boom of the 19 twenties which is something i was familiar with i grew up with grandparents on both coast of florida who lives in the roaring twenties and i also had a grandfather who is a
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real state developer in westchester new york who lost everything in the great depression. so the subject matter spoke to me. bubble in the sun it looks like the second of what will be a trilogy in the third will be about the uranium boom in the fifties which was the last american gold rush. these make very good subjects because they have a natural built-in narrative arc with the emerging of the boom which in this case is the building of the roads in the railroads and the years leading up to the boom. and the giddiness of the frenzy itself which could be
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described as one gigantic party. but that is followed by the pain and tragedy of the best we think these are very american stories every generation lives through one or two and everyone learns a few painful lessons that is part and parcel of living in a free enterprise system with a free market capitalism but i dare take a more serious aspect to what i'm doing that we need to look under the proverbial hood. and to understand why they arose and what went wrong and who or what might be to blame. because of the economist once wrote, regulation that out lines and credulity or mass
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euphoria is not a practical possibility. another words, you cannot legislate away human culpability. so it's up to books like these of how these happen and to teach people to be careful with their investments and not to be seduced by speculative frenzies because they keep them on the current so these are cautionary tales. so i soon discovered there wasn't a definitive history of the florida land boom ever written. a couple short volumes nothing i would describe as definitive or researched. so really there have been very few histories of real estate development or real estate speculation ever written. i was in our with how many fortunes have been made in
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real estate and odd that speculation dates back to the earliest days of the republic you can argue christopher columbus was shopping for real estate for the spanish crown. and the story of john jacob astor and the fur trade with manhattan real estate. so i saw an opportunity. the more i looked into it it was a great chance to write about a fascinating. in american history because the twenties was an especially colorful decade of jazz and flappers in prohibition and el cajon babe ruth, radios and automobiles all of which i touch on in the book. but here for instances the
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book's description of al capone. 6-foot tall, weighing 240 pounds with the gangster dressed immaculately when he went out on the town favoring a dark blue double-breasted suit with a pocket square and a matching polkadot necktie. or a gold diamond studded watch chain and on one pinky finger a full ^-caret diamond ring in a platinum setting. united states secret service agent who finally brought him down by convicting him for tax evasion, recalls big al had dark eyes, perfect teeth, a big flabby pot ndt manicured nails. was 6-inch scar from a knife fight in a bar would down his left cheek. and the mobster pulled out his
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handkerchief he got with of his cologne, lily of the valley. so back to conceiving of the book, there was yet another tale to this story and as with my first book there was the environmental story to be told from the 19 twenties with florida's primary aquifer. specifically building of the tamiami trail that the water that flows into the southern everglades with disastrous consequences but for the wildlife and the entire ecosystem so that environmental story is an important part of the book because i firmly believe we can no longer separate
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economic well-being and environmental well-being they are tied at the hip the british prime minister margaret thatcher the unlikely spokesperson for the environmental movement put it best in the address to the real society 30 years ago when she said and i quote, the health of the economy and the health of our environment are totally dependent upon each other. the world wildlife fund elaborated on the sentiment when it noted all economic did activity is by services of nature. so in the book florida's aquifer is the vast one - - eviscerated in the name of progress and development but yet later the state is heavily dependent on the availability of that water you don't get much more shortsighted than
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that so once i got started on the research, i realize how significant the decade of the twenties was for american history as a whole. i think it's no exaggeration to say that it was the decade to define contemporary america with the norms and preoccupations. for example this is the decade we primarily became a middle-class society and to configure around the automobile and mass media for the first time. radio and then television would soon follow. so that suburban in the focus to be deeply divided between urban and rural. this is the decade when we
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also became arise with the nfl for the first time as well as professional golf and tennis. and then to become sex obsessed for the first time. and and i tell the book of carl fishel on - - fisher and refers to girls as cheesecake. and also we became debt driven for the first time. and this is the decade when home mortgages and installment credit and to have profound implications and interestingly
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we've had that addiction ever since. most remain just as indebted that is if they hadn't been wiped out. and finally i would say this is where business comes to the fold and that preoccupation of most americans. the next thing i discover there were some wonderful characters and in particular developers of the era. i mentioned about miami beach you know coral gables. addison at palm beach and boca
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raton and eb davis in tampa in saint augustine. so to give you a flavor for these men let me just read a quick description that is carl fisher and this is from the boo book. born into a middle-class family in greensboro indiana and 1874 the oldest of three boys born with the sick - - astigmatism so severe he could barely read the blackboard at school. he dropped out at age 12 despite his eyesight he was an avid reader and the gifted athlete but the best i.c.e. skater in indianapolis could also walk on stilts standing a full story high stand on his head and out run his classmates going backwards one
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of his two wives would recall he was is nimble with his feet as his hands. squat and slope shouldered he would grow into a boozer and avid poker player peppering his talk with profanity after biting off and swallowing. married his first wife jane in 18 oh nine she was 24 he was 35. she was smitten. to find him so dazzling i can hardly look at him. 's of each of these developers would make a gigantic fortune in the twenties occluded to the one.$3 billion today. and then with their success to
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lose every penny of it. so each of their stories is a real life morality tale of greed and hubris and power. and then to emerge from this era. and then go later to go on to write the great book of the everglades in 1947. when after years of devastation and drought they were on fire. and with that shortsighted development. and of course that ended in disaster. and she is the conscience of this book. and she outlives the developers happily by 50 or 60 years living to be 108 and
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winning the presidential medal of honor. so as i get deeper into the actual research of this book , i began to suspect there was more to the story than met the eye. and historians overlook the real significance because the bursting of the land boom was the event that triggered the great depression. so then it was real estate and not the stock market that triggered the recession in 2008. so real estate and then the brilliant villain up to the thirties and i try not to in the book and there isn't one
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single cause of the great depression and this is true the collapse of the florida boom is what provided a dynamite and there was a lag time of a couple of years between the florida real estate collapse in the national economy collapsed. that was 2008 by the way real estate started to rollover late 2006 in florida and californi california, the stock market did not decline until 2008. it takes a while for real estate collapse to play out. that was the final piece of the literary puzzle. with that period of time with
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a dramatic set of events and good characters so that is the story behind the conception of the book of how it came to be written and in the broadest terms i would say it is the story of the watershed decade where we went from mom-and-pop to massmarketing and fiscal responsibility and the innocence to urban maturity and sophistication of what we had to go through the great depression to get there. so let me finish by giving you an overview of florida in 1926
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to see if this doesn't echo with you as you look at the country today so in the 19 twenties and 100 years later florida then to affluent coast were separated with that interior. with that wealth distribution and reach one - - one --dash racial intolerance with that manifestation back then. and with that dangerous overreliance of laissez-faire with bakers and business people with that inordinate
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influence on the policy. so to complete the analogy the political leadership of the day has an indifference to society's less fortunate. i find these parallels uncanny and it did not end well back then and today the risk of history repeating is real. so the twenties was a glamorous and prosperous decade full of sports stars and celebrities and starlets but also a reckless disruptive money obsessed scandal ridden and polarized decade and in short the air of are markedly similar to what we live through today. thank you for listening. i hope you read and enjoy the
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book i'm happy to take any questions. [applause] >> from oranges to mangroves and then to market that is orange groves. >>. >>.
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>> i am curious what about today? but at first i was very impressed. and then here in coral gables. but i have to admit it came as a shock to me. and i don't know how they notice but when that would collapse in the 19 twenties and those properties into the new city of coral gables. and at the same time.
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and to purchase the properties and in 1961. in florida collapsed everywhere. but they did not get there and then by the carpet of time and you can understand why. and with that incredible act
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especially in this day and age. but i think he would find that interesting. so i will be her to sign copies and happy to chat answer questions. [applause]
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