As Americans cope with the social and industrial changes wrought by the computer age, we seem ready to view with more sympathy the men who shaped the similarly disruptive economic revolution at the turn of the last century. Less than a year after Titan
, Ron Chernow's sweeping biography of capitalist par excellence John D. Rockefeller, comes Jean Strouse's searching analysis of J.P. Morgan (1837-1913), the merchant banker whose financial prowess enabled the great American businesses to grow and thrive. Like Chernow, Strouse takes a nuanced view of a man reviled by his contemporaries as a sinister monopolist. Morgan sought to stabilize the volatile American economy and raise the cash needed to fuel its meteoric expansion. His methods were controversial, particularly his fondness for industrial "combinations" that dampened competition, but Strouse's lucid résumé of the historical backdrop illuminates the thinking behind Morgan's actions. As in her groundbreaking biography Alice James
, the author never settles for received wisdom, instead reading previously neglected documents with a sharp eye to offer a fresh interpretation. She vividly limns Morgan's imperious personality and such extracurricular interests as his superb art collection. But it's Strouse's ability to clearly convey complex financial material that distinguishes this book. Her chapter on the panic of 1907, which Morgan was instrumental in halting, is as exciting as a good thriller and far more instructive. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Often celebrated as the ideal capitalist or excoriated as the robber baron who most epitomized the excesses and iniquities of the Gilded Age, J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) has, in Strouse, finally been accorded a biographer whose talents match his enormous legacy. Strouse (whose Alice James won the Bancroft Prize) seamlessly weaves Morgan's exploits as America's leading banker with his frenetic social life, in the process vividly evoking the spirit of the Gilded Age. Though she captures Morgan's famed imperiousness and bluster, she paints a much fuller portrait of Morgan than has hitherto been available. Morgan was the consummate financier. Responsible for the consolidation of most of the nation's railroads as well as the formation of U.S. Steel, he also helped underwrite the creation of General Electric, International Harvester and AT&T. Before there was a Federal Reserve Board, he functioned as America's de facto central banker. He famously enjoyed his wealth and wasn't shy about spreading his money around. A passionate lover of the arts, he served as president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and played a major role in building that institution into one of the finest of its kind. Strouse spent more than 10 years researching her latest work, and readers are rewarded with numerous nuggets about the colorful people who surrounded Morgan. The Morgan who emerges from these pages is, for all his hard ambition and ruthlessness, not merely ruthless and greedy. By blending the different facets of this most complicated man, Strouse humanizesAwithout shrinking or whitewashingAone of America's mythic figures. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
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