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The Death of the Banker: The Decline and Fall of the Great Financial Dynasties and the Triumph of the Small Investor (Vintage) Paperback – July 14, 1997


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ron Chernow, the National Book Award-winning author of two astoundingly comprehensive biographies of prominent American financiers, now examines the ultimate decline of such power brokers and the corresponding rise of international money in The Death of the Banker. This surprisingly concise (but no less illuminating) volume opens with an expanded version of a speech on "the dwindling role of the financial intermediary" that he presented early in 1997; it concludes with condensed versions of his earlier books on J. P. Morgan and the Warburgs that show how the essence of financial power has changed in the 20th century.

From Library Journal

Chernow revisits here a period he explored in depth in earlier works: the 19th-century golden age of merchant banking and the likes of J.P. Morgan (The House of Morgan, LJ 2/1/90) in the United States and the Warburgs (The Warburgs, LJ 9/1/93) in Europe. His work grew out of a lecture in which he maintained that "the salient fact of 20th-century finance will be the sharp erosion of banker power." What he meant was the passage of "relational" banking, where bankers had ongoing relationships with their clients, to a "transactional" type of banking, where all bankers are competing for the same work. To justify his point, he here profiles both the Morgan and Warburg banks in two separate essays. While both are well written, one wonders why he's reinvented the wheel. His two previous books on Morgan and Warburg are brilliant and masterly, yet his condensation of their lives for his new book, while highly readable, makes the reader hunger for more. Appropriate for larger business collections.?Richard Drezen, Washington Post News Research Ctr., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 130 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (July 14, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ron Chernow won the National Book Award in 1990 for his first book, The House of Morgan, and his second book, The Warburgs, won the Eccles Prize as the Best Business Book of 1993. His biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Titan, was a national bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By lector avidus on August 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
Ron Chernow, who has degrees in English literature from Yale and Cambridge, has written excellent biographies of the Rockefeller, Morgan and Warburg families. In this book, which essentially is a spin-off of his other books, he explains how the economic niche that JP Morgan and the Warburgs inhabited, that of the middleman between the very wealthy and corporations and aspiring entrepreneurs, has disappeared in today's world of telephones, fax machines, the internet, the SEC, and mutual funds and venture capital.

This book grew out of a talk he delivered on the topic, with a brief summary of the Morgans and the Warburgs appended. Oftentimes talks given at conventions are in part written to fill time; this seems to be the case with this book; anyone with a bachelors in economics could summarize it on a page or two without any loss of meaningful detail, the second part is a short look at the lives of the subjects of his other books. Stylistically, the focus is on the use of elegant English, to such an extent that the book suffers under it. There certainly is a place for beautiful English in historical works, as anyone who has read Macaulay's History of England knows, but not as its own reward.

Those who want to familiarize themselves with the economic history of the great merchant bankers in an unthreatening way free of all too much economic jargon will greatly enjoy this book. PhD economists, on the other hand, will probably feel that Chernow ought to get to the point.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By houseofcommerce@ibm.net on August 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
Death of the banker by Ron Chernow
Disappointing when you know the Warburgs, but anyway worthwile reading when it is read as intro to US Banking history. The book is an enlargement of a speech held by the author in earlier times. Thus, it centers in the first part strongly on the development and undevelopment of banking in USA. But reader beware, the title is misleading. Chernow really envisages the personal banker, the likes of Warburg or in particular J.P. Morgan and his power. So the power of banks has shifted, but will never expire as the author himself admits. The short stories of the lifes of the Warburgs and Morgan are nice first reading, but lack depth and analysis. Recommendation : If you lack time, read it, otherwise you are better off with the authors more precise works.
Dr. Rudolf C. King
CEO princeandprince.com
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Peter McMahon on June 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was disappointed with Chernow's tome on the Morgans, partly because, as he states in this book, it lacked thematic content. I don't think Chernow is right about banking and finance generally becoming 'democratised', even if it is changing. Global finance is still controlled by a very few fund managers and bankers, albeit with an eye to the profit margin. It may be the populace's money, but they do not decide how it gets used, and this is the crucial power in our time. Nevertheless, this is a good introduction to the subject and always readable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
As other reviewers have mentioned, the main part of this book is an essay about the historical transformation of finance, which is then illustrated by brief accounts of the Morgan and Warburg banking dynasties and collateral historical material. I did not read this when in came out in 1997, because I had read the longer Chernow works, including The House of Morgan and The Warburgs. I picked it up for a train ride the other day and was astounded at its prescience.

Chernow sketches the development of early finance arising naturally out of merchant activity and evolving into more specialized institutions subservient to users of capital (usually princes fighting wars). As finance globalized but information technology stagnated, bankers grew in power relative to their borrowers, reaching a peak around 1900. Changes in laws and information processing increased the stature of the great corporations, which evolved their own banking services just as early modern merchants had done 500 years earlier. Somewhat later, demographic and other changes empowered suppliers of capital. These two trends squeezed out the banker.

This is a simple story and even with elaboration makes a short book. What's astounding to me is how well this account explains the twelve years since it was published. It's hard to imagine how someone could see so clearly at a time when some of the most prestigious banks (including Goldman Sachs and Lazard Frères) were private partnerships, Glass-Steagall was in force and equity underwriting was the hot business.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By dcreader VINE VOICE on April 6, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book provides a fascinating overview of the evolution of banking from its origins as an offshoot of general merchandising to the complex subject it's become today. Chernow skillfully and entertainingly reveals how bankers have gone from being all powerful "Masters of the Universe" to much less exalted financial bureaucrats. Chernow could have gone further, though, and extrapolated to explain how this is the natural product of capitalism, where the only true "Masters" are the vast bulk of consumers.
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