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Robert Sobel

Robert Sobel
Robert Sobel in a promotional photo for his publisher
Born Robert Sobel
(1931-02-19)February 19, 1931
The Bronx, New York City
Died June 2, 1999(1999-06-02) (aged 68)
Occupation Writer, editor, professor
Nationality American
Alma mater New York University
Period 1956–1999
Genre Business History
Notable works For Want of a Nail (1973)

Robert Sobel (February 19, 1931 – June 2, 1999) was an American professor of history at Hofstra University and a well-known and prolific writer of business histories.


  • Biography 1
  • Books 2
  • Wall Street 3
  • Selected quotations 4
  • Selected bibliography 5
    • Fiction 5.1
    • Non-fiction 5.2
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Sobel was born in the Bronx, in New York City, New York. He completed his B.S.S. (1951) and M.A. (1952) at City College of New York, and after serving in the U.S. Army, obtained a Ph.D. from New York University in 1957. He started teaching at Hofstra in 1956. Sobel eventually became Lawrence Stessin Distinguished Professor of Business History at Hofstra. After his death, the university established the Robert Sobel Endowed Scholarship for Excellence in Business History and Finance.


Sobel's first business history, published in 1965, was The Big Board: A History of the New York Stock Market. It was the first history of the stock market written in over a generation. The book was met with favorable reviews and solid sales, and Sobel's writing career was launched. Several of his subsequent books were bestsellers.

Besides writing more than 30 books, Sobel authored many articles, book reviews, and scripts for television documentaries and mini-series. From 1972 to 1988, Sobel's weekly investment column, "Knowing the Street," was nationally syndicated through New York Newsday. He was also regularly published in national periodicals, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. At the time of his death, Sobel was also a contributing editor to Barron's Magazine. He was a regular guest on financial and other news shows, such as Wall Street Week and Crossfire.

Sobel was almost as famous for his only work of fiction, the 1973 book, For Want of a Nail. This book is an alternate history in which Burgoyne won the Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolutionary War. This work detailed the history of an alternate timeline, complete with footnotes. Sobel had authored or co-authored several actual textbooks. For Want of a Nail was republished in 1997 and won a special achievement Sidewise Award for Alternate History that year.

Wall Street

Sobel's dominant passion was Wall Street, a fascination that he held since his childhood. "It is as though you are walking through a historical theme park, with this engaging man at your side pointing out the sights," said Andrew Tobias, the author and investment guide, in a review in The New York Times of The Last Bull Market: Wall Street in the 1960s (W. W. Norton, 1978).

Most of Sobel's books were written for a general audience, but he never bristled when some scholarly writers dismissed him as a "popularizer," said his colleague and friend George David Smith, a professor of economic history at New York University. "Quite the contrary—he saw that as his mission in life."

Selected quotations

From Panic on Wall Street by Robert Sobel:

From a February 22, 1999 Barron's Magazine article by Robert Sobel:

From The Great Bull Market: Wall Street in the 1920s, by Robert Sobel:

Selected bibliography



  • *** A paperback reprint of IBM: Colossus in Transition.


  • Hand, Judson, "If Washington Hadn't Been the Father of His Country," Sunday (New York Daily) News, 18 February 1973.
  • Henriques, Diana B., "Robert Sobel, 68, a Historian of Business, Dies," New York Times, 4 June 1999, page C-18; 1999 WLNR 3054857.
  • MacGregor, Martha, "The Week in Books," New York Post, 31 March 1973.
  • Sicilia, DB, "Remembering Robert Sobel (1931-1999)" Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History, Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 182–187, (March 2000).
  • Skow, John, "Parlor Games," Time, 9 April 1973.

External links

  • "Robert Sobel, 68, a Historian of Business, Dies," New York Times, 4 June 1999.
  • , August 30, 1998.Coolidge: An America Enigma interview with Sobel on Booknotes
  • Robert Sobel at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
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