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The Guggenheims Hardcover – January 18, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Stated 1st Edition edition (January 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060188073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060188078
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,611,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A biography of an illustrious family can be like a cassoulet: lots of delicious bits that combine beautifully but no tastes that fully stand out. Such is the case with this remarkably researched history of the Guggenheims. Pulitzer Prize–winner Irwin Unger (The Greenback Era) and his wife, Debi (coauthor, with Irwin, of LBJ: A Life), assemble an extraordinary collection of letters, interviews, memos and contemporary documents to tell the story of the family's rapid rise and slow decline, a saga marked by a combination of "profound Americanism" and Jewish "old world heritage." The sheer size of the Guggenheim family—the Ungers note that the "legion" descendants of Meyer (1828–1905), the family patriarch, are "impossible" to follow through time—means that no one member of the clan stands out, though the feisty Harry, "fighting entropy" in the family for much of the 20th century, burns brighter than many of his relatives. The scintillating Peggy Guggenheim, known for her patronage of modern art and her robust sex life, gets ample play here, but her story is told more thoroughly in recent biographies by Anton Gill and Mary Dearborn. Readers looking for a broad, appetizing sweep of American life will find it here, but those hungry for sharp, burning flavors may skip to the next course. 16-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Researched from the ground up, this profile of the Guggenheims depends little on its numerous predecessors (most recently, The Guggenheims, by John H. Davis, 1978) and is at present the best-informed account of the clan. Describing the 1848 immigration to America of the original Guggenheim, the authors ably recount the creation of the fortune (from mining and smelting) by first-generation Meyer and the business expansions by son Daniel, who led the Guggenheims to their prosperous peak in the 1920s. Then comes the reading fun: what the next generation did with the money. After logging the fates of a few aimless sybarites, the Ungers discuss in detail the more enduring activities of three third-generation Guggenheims: clan chief Harry (founder of the newspaper Newsday); Solomon (founder of the Guggenheim Museum); and Peggy (patron of artists such as Jackson Pollack). The authors texture the business and philanthropic activities of various family members with their character traits, their houses and haunts, and their religion. An engaging history of the famous family. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I can think of several reasons to read this fascinating story of an iconic American dynasty. A reader might want to know why the name Guggenheim is on a number of important art museums around the world and want to know how they got there. Another might know about the glory days of the seven brothers when they ruled copper mining and smelting. Another might know about the flamboyant Peggy Guggenheim and want to get more context for her life. Then there is Harry Guggenheim and his participation in and support of early aviation (he actually participated in air combat in BOTH world wars), his support of Robert Goddard's early rocketry research, and his friendship with Charles Lindbergh.

Personally, I am fascinated by multi-generational family stories. How was the success that founded the dynasty achieved? How is the next generation formed to continue that success? Because business changes, the family will have to adapt. Can they continue the success? How do they hold things together or why does it fall apart? Splits within the family are inevitable simply because people will want to establish their own lives apart from somebody else's path.

This book has a huge cast of characters because there were so many people coming in and out of this family. There is a great deal of divorce, faithlessness in the marriages that do occur, a shocking amount of suicide, and proof that money, fame, hedonistic sex, and intoxicants do not lead to happiness. This book does tell the story of certain members of the clan more fully. The story of the seven sons of Meyer Guggenheim (who founded the dynasty a $5,000 dollar investment in a mine in Colorado) is quite fascinating.

One of the sons, Ben, went down with the Titanic.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on February 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Most family biographies are hard to read and even harder to follow, as the generations begin to amass, narrative thrust seems to take a vacation. So it is with great pleasure that I can report THE GUGGENHEIMS by Irwin Unger and Debi Unger "good to the last drop." The authors begin with a panoply of anti-Semitism in Europe and make it clear just how limited career prospects were for Jews of the second millennium, when they were forbidden all but the very lousiest jobs, and the jobs most guaranteed to annoy their Christian "brethren" (such as collecting rents and taxes). Unike the other great Jewish families of "Our Crowd," the Guggenheims made their money primarily from mining, in the farawy and exotic paradise of Chile (mostly in copper, and silver and lead as well). By the turn of the century (1900) they were well on their way towards their legend.

The biography has sweep and a certain falling grandeur, but I liked best the authors' marvelous pen portraits of the many younger Guggenheims. I liked finding out that Gladys Guggenheim wrote two cookbooks and was named "nutrition commissioner" of New York by Thomas Dewey in 1934. There's the shocking battle between the sisters Hazel and Peggy, over who could score with the most men sexually--when each got up to a thousand, the numbers started to blur. I bet! And then the terrible story of Hazel's 1928 rooftop tragedy. She had taken her two little toddlers, Ben and Terrence, up to an unlikely section of her apartment's roof garden, and somehow the two tykes tumbled off t their deaths. She was suspected as being some kind of Alice Crimmins-type Medea, but the family turned up a window cleaner nearby who claimed to have witnessed the whole thing and said Hazel was innocent and had indeed tried to save the kids!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John W. Cotner on February 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
initially i thought this was a poorly written book, too conversational, ungrammatical at times, reciting what twigs and leaves on the gugenheim family tree did or are doing in a linear, list-making sort of way.

but after a while, the book really grew on me and i became comfortable with the writers' colloquial style and found the book interesting, especially in telling the story of the building of the gugenheim fortune in copper, tin and other metals, and then the story of how, after that business went caput and the fortune with it, certain gugenheims, mainly solomon and peggy, became giants in the world of 20th century modern art, enabling the gugenheim name to live on forever.

the first part of this book tells how a german jewish immigrant, isadore gugenheim, and his seven sons built a fortune in copper and tin out west and in south america. the gugenheim's jewishness and way of dealing with it is a fascinating topic that recurs throughout the book, evoking stephen birmingham's "our crowd" and irving howe's "world of our fathers."

the gugenheims alternately embraced and denied their judaism, and their struggle with their own identity and the identity that gentile society imposed on them is a running commentary and reflection on the decrease in antisemitism over the decades in this country, as schools or clubs that excluded earlier generations of gugenheims eagerly admitted their descendants to where their jewishness became virtually a non-issue.
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