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Robert Sobel (February 19, 1931 – June 2, 1999) was an Americanmarker professor of history at Hofstra Universitymarker, and a well-known and prolific writer of business histories. He was also a chess Master, who represented the United Statesmarker at the 1957 and 1958 Student chess Olympiads; he defeated thirteen-year-old future World Champion Bobby Fischer at Montrealmarker 1956.


Sobel was born in the Bronxmarker, in New York Citymarker, New Yorkmarker. He completed his B.S.S. (1951) and M.A. (1952) at City College of New Yorkmarker, and after serving in the U.S. Army, obtained a PhD from New York Universitymarker in 1957. He started teaching at Hofstra in 1956. Sobel eventually became Lawrence Stessin Distinguished Professor of Business History at Hofstramarker. Since 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 best sellers.

Besides writing more than 30 books, Sobel others, 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 perhaps most 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 Saratogamarker during the American Revolutionary War. This unique work was just like a real history book, but detailing the history of an alternate timeline, complete with footnotes. Sobel had authored, or co-authored, several actual text books. For Want of a Nail was republished in 1988 and won several science fiction awards.

But Sobel's dominant passion was Wall Streetmarker, a metaphysical neighborhood that had fascinated him since 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 1960's (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."

Chess master

In his younger years, Sobel reached the Master level in chess. He defeated future World Champion Bobby Fischer, who was a 13-year-old Master at the time, in the first Canadian Open Chess Championship in Montrealmarker 1956, in a sharp attacking game (, Robert Sobel vs Robert Fischer, Canadian Open, Montreal 1956, King's Indian Defence (A49), 1-0). In that tournament, Sobel also defeated eight-time Canadian Chess Championship winner Maurice Fox. Sobel represented the United Statesmarker at the Student Olympiad, Reykjavikmarker 1957, on the first reserve board, scoring 2.5/4 (+2 =1 -1), and the Americans placed fifth. He also played for the U.S. in the 1958 Student Olympiad at Varnamarker, scoring 0/2 on the first reserve board, as the U.S. placed sixth ( He tied for 3rd-4th places in the 1957 New Jerseymarker Open Championship at East Orangemarker, with 5.5/7, a point behind Fischer, who won the tournament and avenged his loss in Montreal to Sobel (The Games of Robert J. Fischer, edited by Robert Wade and Kevin O'Connell, Batsford 1972, pp 138-40). Sobel seems to have given up serious competitive chess soon after beginning his career as a Hofstra professor.

Notable chess games

Sobel, R - Fischer, R (B70)CAN-op Montreal (2), 1956

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.0-0 d6 6.Nc3 c5 7.e4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Nde2 Bd7 10.b3 Qc8 11.Bb2 Bh3 12.f3 Bxg2 13.Kxg2 d5 14.exd5 Rd8 15.Qc1 Nb4 16.a3 Nbxd5 17.Nxd5 Nxd5 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.c4 Qe6 20.Qb2+ Nf6 21.Nf4 Qf5 22.Nd5 e6 23.g4 Qg5 24.h4 Qxh4 25.Rh1 Qg5 26.Rxh7+ Kf8 27.Qxf6 1-0

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



Fan sites

  • For All Nails "Sobel-heads" flesh out or extend the history from the book For Want of a Nail.
  • Alternative History "Sobel, must be numbered with Tolkien among the handful of creators of a complete imaginary world."

External links


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