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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nobody like him
i read ron chernow's book on j. p. morgan before reading this one and initially did not think i would like this one as much, but ended up liking it more. i recommend reading both of them to get a complete picture of morgan, who was, with john d. rockefeller and theodore roosevelt, perhaps the most influential man in america between 1875 and 1925.
chernow's book is...
Published on February 22, 2002 by John W. Cotner

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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Long on unnecessary detail, short on insight
Ms. Strouse has confused detail with insight: after wading through this book I still have no real understanding of who the man was. Perhaps Morgan is just a difficult subject, but Ms. Strouse tackles him by giving you reams of data in the hope that this will show just how well she's researched her subject. In fact, you DON'T care about the name of EACH painting he...
Published on October 3, 1999 by alastmac


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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nobody like him, February 22, 2002
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i read ron chernow's book on j. p. morgan before reading this one and initially did not think i would like this one as much, but ended up liking it more. i recommend reading both of them to get a complete picture of morgan, who was, with john d. rockefeller and theodore roosevelt, perhaps the most influential man in america between 1875 and 1925.
chernow's book is really about the house of morgan, and j. p. morgan dies halfway through it, but jean strouse devotes all of her attention to j. p. morgan himself, both to his business and pleasure. he was a man of large ego and appetites, but enough of a fiduciary to be prudent about what he did in all spheres.
both biographers, chernow and strouse, seemed to grow fond of their subject, which is not unusual, except that morgan is a difficult man to warm to. at times they seemed to rationalize or explain away some pretty nasty behavior, e.g., his bigotry and prejudice, which, again, as a fiduciary, he did not let get in the way of making money. if i were jewish, i would not be nearly so tolerant of morgan's virulent anti-semitism as chernow and strouse charitably were. they seemed to accept it as a by- product of his time and class, and i think every biographer ends up liking his subject.
morgan could be an arrogant, haughty jerk and a prick to people, including his family, and was indifferent to his second wife -- his first, the love of his life, having died right after they were married -- and son -- an ineffectual but well-meaning typical "scion" -- but morgan grew up when the upper classes felt entitled to think and act that way, assuming the rightness of their noblesse station in this world. and, he was in a hardball business and playing for keeps with the biggest money of anyone, at any time.
one thing both chernow and strouse point out is how morgan -- seemingly the jupiter above all men -- and his financial house -- seemingly above all nations and boundaries and oriented toward britain rather than toward america -- periodically had to be reined in by the federal government when they got too bold or indifferent to the laws of nations or what was in the usa's best interests.
the law of money was all morgan and his men understood and they thought it was paramount. their machinations, while mostly for the public good and economic development of this country, caused enough distrust of wall street bankers and financiers that more government regulation was called for and ultimately, the federal reserve bank was created, right after he died.
on the positive side, morgan was an inarticulate but, deep inside, a crudely warm man, who genuinely perceived of his role as steward of the american banking and financial system, to enable large amounts of capital to flow westward from europe, to enable the usa to industrialize and expand. he was our banking system and federal reserve system all rolled into one and there is no one like him and has not been since he died. alan greenspan does only a third of what morgan did for the u. s. economy.
jean strouse does a good job of explaining all of this in a way that is not arcane or boring. i am not versed in banking and economics and some of what morgan did in effecting the acquisition and push of big money into the economy and railroads, oil, and other emerging industries is difficult to explain without going into some technical detail.
jean strouse carries this off and i imagine that when she started she had to educate herself about economics to know her subject well enough to not make a fool of herself, as she knew that everyone on wall street would read her book. her discussion of economics a la morgan is both interesting and educational.
the non-business aspect of strouse's book and treatment of morgan the man is just as interesting. morgan was not a philanthopist on the scale of rockefeller, but was a fabulous art and rare book and antiquity collector. a good portion of his collections, except for what his son sold off, became the basis for several new york museum collections that we now enjoy.
and, as strouse points out, morgan was one of the first to have what we now call a rustic lake cottage, on raquette lake in the adirondacks; he spent little time there himself because it frankly was not his style. he also had the nineteenth century version of a phallic cigarette boat, a darth vaderesque, black on black hundred foot yacht, the corsair, which would ominously announce his presence whenever it would glide into a foreign port and tie up; suffice it to say that people far more important than the local press took note of his comings and goings.
i heartily recommend that you read this book. stick with it, as it seems to bog down early on in list-making and daily living detail, but then picks up and finishes strong. you will find it interesting, well-written and worthwhile.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing historical perspective, June 24, 1999
By A Customer
Strouse goes into amazing detail (at times a bit thick, but always fascinating) as she charts Morgan's entire life--out of which context emerge the outlines of a number of the most significant shifts in emerging global finance coming out of the American Civil War: 1) moving captial to the US from Europe to refinance Civil War debt and contribute to the building of the US industrial base 2)a broad shift from debt-based financing to equity-based financing, and 3)the (at the time) scandalous shift in valuing companies from book-value to multiples of earnings (the financial media of the day descried that Morgan, at one point, got international backing for a shipping combination valued at between 2 and 3 times annual revenues).
Insights the Strouse bio makes accessible inform the daily world around us in bounteous ways that make this book an incredibly worthwhile (as well as compelling) read. In this morning's WSJ, there was discussion of Iran now making good on previously nationalized assets so as to make Iran a more attractive place for international investors; the discussion of the bond market in light of the stock market's powerful gains continues; and individual investors as well as institutions are forever coming to terms with the fact that the market continues to support companies with what have traditionally been considered wildly high p/e ratios.
Add to the mix that Morgan was a fascinating man--as interested in the details of the dresses he had made for his wife, daughters, and mistresses as in the contents of his library, the speed of and fittings on his latest yacht, as well as the characters of the men who worked for him and with whom he chose to form investing syndicates, and you have a delightful, powerful biography.
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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Long on unnecessary detail, short on insight, October 3, 1999
By 
alastmac (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
Ms. Strouse has confused detail with insight: after wading through this book I still have no real understanding of who the man was. Perhaps Morgan is just a difficult subject, but Ms. Strouse tackles him by giving you reams of data in the hope that this will show just how well she's researched her subject. In fact, you DON'T care about the name of EACH painting he bought, or WHEN, or for how much. She tells you this ad nauseam. You DON'T have to know the name of each and every ship he sailed in, nor the time and date of each voyage he took. She DOESN'T have any grasp of the financial world, and it shows: her discussions of his life's work, finance, are shallow. I would absolutely NOT recommend this book. And just to show you all that I'm not a curmudgeon, I LOVED the following biographies: Truman (McCulloch); Churchill (Manchester); Rockefeller (Chernow)...Ms. Strouse needs to learn that a judicious selection of facts is crucial to presenting a balanced view. Repetition of every fact you've learned about your subject is just overload.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A in-depth look at America's financial genius, March 25, 2004
This review is from: Morgan: American Financier (Paperback)
In her book, "Morgan: American Financier" Jean Strouse has made a bold attempt to capture the essence of the man whose ideas shaped America's economy from the Civil War up through, at least, the New Deal. While the style of the writing of "Morgan: American Financier" may seem "dry", we have to remember that Ms. Strouse is not writing a biography of a colorful person like Nellie Bly or William Randolph Hearst. Still, she captures the tensions behind high-stake financing, plutocratic rivalries (Morgan vs. Andrew Carnegie, for example), and the ambitious attempt to rein in the wild speculation of railroad magnates. What makes the text of this book engaging for those not inclined to read these types of biographies, is that Strouse never lets you forget how much is at stake, not just in terms of dollars but in terms of the future of America's economic stability and growth.
For me, the chapters on JP Morgan's relationship with his father, Junius, and the internal struggles he had with traditional financing versus the role of financer as corporate director were at times touching and admirable. Specifically, the chapters entitled "Family Affairs and Professional Ethics" and "Fathers and Sons" were the most successful and enjoyable. Bottom line: if you enjoy biographies/histories of the people who shaped American capitalism, this is a wonderful book. But even if that isn't your cup of tea, there is a lot of the human element to make this great reading.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History is subject to a tyranny of the articulate, April 12, 2002
By 
JP Morgan ruled finance like Napoleon or Caesar ruled the battlefield, but he could never express himself clearly. On a good day he was about as eloquent as George W. Bush. Yet he would see what needed to be done and do it; words never entered the process.
This theme runs through Ms. Strouse's book (the review's title is a quote). Yet Morgan's inability to clearly express himself in no way affected his ability to understand his work. Ms. Strouse wrote a beautifully ironic book: an eloquent elegy to an inarticulate leader, and this way voicing in her biography what Morgan could not himself express.
The book gives serious readers a refreshing dose of humility; it is a welcome argument on why we need to look beyond the sound bite when evaluating today's leaders (such as GWB, like him or not).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facinating Look At The Man So Rich He Saved Wall Street!, May 18, 1999
By A Customer
I found this book to be a facinating look at the man who was so rich that he single-handedly was able to stop the stock market from crashing. Morgan has been perhaps unfairly labeled a "robber baron", when in fact he was extremely generous in his philanthropy - particularly to the Episcopal Church and to the American people, to whom he gave his vast art collection...perhaps the largest collection in the world. You won't be able to put it down once you start, and the price is very reasonable!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The finest biography of Morgan yet, September 28, 2000
By 
Peter T. Wolf "Gilded Age Lover" (lake forest, ca United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I am a long time student of the American and European Gilded Age capitalists and industrialists, especially the Morgan's. As such I have read every biography of Morgan and his associates ever printed. This latest by Jean Strouse is without question the finest I have read. Here's why;
Well written history immurses the reader in the period under discussion; nothing in the writing jars the reader back to the present. The very packaging of the book itself must give one the feel of the period
The subject (in this case Morgan) must be viewed from many different angles; peers, family, reporters, foreign potentates, etc so that one gains a 360 degree view of the subject.
The book must contain heretofore unseen illustrations. Not just the usual ones.
The author must be so familiar and attracted to the subject that the writing is imbued with high drama. When you finish you are left with a feeling of wonder. You need time to allow the experience to permeate your senses. You do not even feel like moving onto the next book yet.
Jean Strouse's biography accomplishes all the above with a 5 star rating !!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Biography of a Fascinating Life, July 14, 2000
This review is from: Morgan: American Financier (Paperback)
This biography succeeds in giving the reader a sense of Mr. Morgan's social milieu, the profound contradictions in the way he lived his life, and the way in which the late 19th and early 20th Century evolved into what we now call modern life.
Ms. Strouse is sympathetic to her protagonist, but is also quick to point up his many flaws and quirks. I found the whole thing extremely readable.
Perhaps the most amusing part of the book is the way in which Ms. Strouse portrays the "intelligentsia" in Mr. Morgan's art world--Roger Fry, Berenson--less as interesting evolutionary figures in the history of art criticism and more as real flesh and blood folks in search of a position or a commission. "Catty", Fry and Berenson seem to be synonyms in the Strouse lexicon.
I'm not a great reader of biographies, but this one is pretty darn interesting. I wonder how the bios of this generation's multi-billionaires will read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big Bad John, June 14, 2009
By 
fredtownward "The Analytical Mind; Have Brain... (Mocksville, North Carolina, United States) - See all my reviews
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Big Bad John

In the months following the year he turned 69
The banking system cracked and men started cryin'
Bankers were prayin' and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought that they'd loaned their last--`cept John

Through the financial panic of this man-made hell
Walked a giant of a man that the bankers knew well
Grabbed a saggin' trust, gave out with a groan
And like a giant oak tree he just stood there alone--Big John

And with all his strength he gave a mighty shove
Then a banker yelled out, "There's a light up above!"
And seventy banks scrambled from a would-be grave
Now there's only one left down there to save--Big John

With apologies to Jimmy Dean and Dean and Roy Acuff, this song sprang to mind while I was reading how in 1907 and for the second time in his life, this time at the advanced age of 70, John Pierpont (J. P.) Morgan once again took the entire American financial system upon his back and carried it to safety. His reward for this sterling service? To be accused of having caused the panic himself in order to profit from it and to be hounded into the grave a few years later by a hostile Congress.

At almost 800 pages Jean Strouse has produced an exhaustive and exhausting biography of this extraordinary financier, in part no doubt to answer the inevitable questions of her political fellow travelers who must be astonished that one of their own could find anything good to say about the devil incarnate. However, as Ms. Strouse conclusively proves with her ocean of ink, while it is possible to disagree with J. P. Morgan over this decision or that position, it is just not possible to despise him if you honestly examine the facts.

He was far from perfect, but thanks to a lifelong paternal moral education relentlessly pounded into his skull and what appears to have been remarkably devout Christian beliefs, he was a lot better than he could have been. On two separate occasions when he would have been well justified in thinking, "My country be damned!" and retiring to Europe with what would still have been a vast fortune, he instead chose to try and rally financial support and lead the leaderless into saving America's financial system from collapse.

He backed Thomas Edison in the invention of the light bulb all through the difficult early years (including the setting of his own house on fire during one early wiring mishap) until electric lights came on and stayed on. He followed a management philosophy of selecting people based on merit, regardless of anything else, and he gave away huge sums of money and enormously valuable collections of art.

Even his most controversial policy, "Morganization", the consolidation of warring competitors (usually railroads) into larger combinations content to compete more peacefully and earn a steady profit cannot be as easily dismissed as this champion of unfettered competition at least once thought. Due to their enormous fixed costs, several orders of magnitude greater size, necessity for constructing expensive track in order to enter a market, and at the time mostly debt rather than equity financing (dividends are payable only when there are profits but interest on bonds is due regardless), railroads were peculiarly susceptible to the perils of cutthroat competition, and since a railroad in receivership could suspend paying interest and thus more easily undersell its solvent rivals, bankruptcy was perversely a competitive advantage.

The resulting continual price wars and bankruptcies benefitted shippers like farmers at least in the short run at the expense of investors who regularly received pennies on the dollar, but anyone with any sense could see that in the long run this was no way to run a railroad. Morgan's solution resulted in higher shipping rates but also more solvent railroads that could afford to spend money on improvements like increased safety AND pay back investors. What's more, unlike government's hypocritically identical response of imposing fixed rates themselves, these were private agreements that could be abolished whenever any of the rivals chose to do so, and they usually chose to do so so quickly as to land themselves right back into bankruptcy again, forcing J. P. to "Morganize" them again. Since Morganizations proved to be very much less successful (read less profitable) outside the railroad industry, they can perhaps best be categorized as an unorthodox but arguably necessary response to a particularly unworkable competitive model, since eliminated by changes in corporate financing and technology (ships, trucks, and planes don't need expensive tracks). At the very least "Morganization" cannot honestly be dismissed as a scheme to gouge consumers.

Defects? Well, when the subject is not J. P. Morgan who has clearly won her over, Ms. Strouse occasionally lets her politics lead her astray. Too often she falls hook, line, and sinker for the same sorts of lies and propaganda about OTHER so-called "robber barons" that she disproves so thoroughly regarding J. P. (She would have benefitted greatly from reading The Myth of the Robber Barons, which makes the important distinction between political entrepreneurs who were every bit the crooks she thinks them to be and market entrepreneurs, like Commodore Vanderbilt and John D. Rockefeller, who made their fortunes by fighting the crooks and providing a better product at a more affordable price.)

In addition she includes a couple of chapters whose only justification is political correctness. (One a bit too approvingly details the apparent lesbian seduction of one of JP's daughters by an older woman, and the other a bit too approvingly passes on the lifetime of deceptions by JP's personal librarian because her lies began with being an African-American light enough skinned to pass for white.) I also regard Ms. Strouse's attempt to blame the rampant racism of late 19th Century America on the REPUBLICAN Party to be either the product of dishonesty or delusion. Suffice it to say that most of the people in those days who dressed up in white sheets in order to terrorize black people voted for the OTHER political party!

Finally her premise that the financial system had grown too large for one private individual however wealthy to rescue must be regarded as unproven because (a) in neither of his two rescues, especially the latter, did Morgan act alone anyway and (b) the record of the Federal Reserve in managing subsequent financial crises has been decidedly more mixed than Morgan's record.

Still, these minor critiques aside, Ms. Strouse has produced a remarkably well balanced portrait of a man we would do well to remember more accurately than we do.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A First Rate Biography, September 30, 2000
By 
Walter Fekula (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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Jean Strouse has written a well researched, first rate biography. She dispels the myth of J. P. Morgan being a 19th Century greedy capitalist. After all, he almost singularly saved the United States from financial collapse. All aspects of his life are handled meticulously; from his childhood, education, going into business with his father and finally taking over the reins of the business, to his outside interests including art collecting, travels to Egypt and extra-marital affairs. It is all there . One marvels on how accurately Ms. Strouse describes his financial dealings making them understandable and fascinating to the general reader. The description of late 19th Century America and how the rich lived rounds out this wonderful book. Perhaps most importantly, after finishing this book, one feels that he knows Mr. Morgan, big nose and all.
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Morgan: American Financier
Morgan: American Financier by Jean Strouse (Paperback - March 22, 2000)
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