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The House of Rothschild: Volume 1: Money's Prophets: 1798-1848 Paperback – November 1, 1999

Book 1 of 2 in the House of Rothschild Series

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The House of Rothschild: Volume 1: Money's Prophets: 1798-1848 + The House of Rothschild: Volume 2: The World's Banker: 1849-1999 + The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance
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Editorial Reviews Review

Founded in the late 18th century by expatriate German Jews, the London-based House of Rothschild was within decades the largest banking enterprise in the world. Its principals controlled a vast portion of the industrial world's wealth--more so, Oxford historian Niall Ferguson writes, than any family has since--and as a result enjoyed tremendous political influence in the major capitals of Europe, counting as allies such important figures as Metternich and Wellington. That influence would provoke countless anti-Semitic tracts fulminating against Jewish usury and against the power of "Eastern potentates" in the empires of England and France. Although the Rothschilds were well aware of their power and not reluctant to use it, they operated fairly, Ferguson notes. For example, whereas lending rates in the textile industry, in which the Rothschilds got their start, were often 20 percent, the fledgling house charged 5 to 9 percent. Through shrewd, complex negotiations they helped promote peace and the beginnings of economic union throughout Europe.

Ferguson's sprawling history covers much ground and involves a cast of hundreds of players. At the outset he notes that his book was commissioned by the modern descendants of the House of Rothschild; even so, he approaches his task with careful balance and a critical eye, pointing out the Rothschilds' failings as well as successes. The result is a fine, solid contribution to economic history, one that, unlike so many books in the field, is eminently readable. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author

Niall Ferguson is Professor of International History at Harvard University, Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; New Ed edition (November 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140240845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140240849
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of our most renowned historians. He is the bestselling author of numerous books, including The War of the World, Colossus, and Empire.

Customer Reviews

The book is very detailed, as it should be.
I would highly recommend this book to any serious student of history, as well as to people interested in banking and economics.
The book could cut out 100-200 pages and move to a 4 star.
M. Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

111 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Ege on February 16, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading the second volume of this extensive history of the Rothschild family. The author was given access to private writings of the family members, who were avid correspondents with one another. As a result, he is able to bring insight and additional historical information into the narrative of this famous financial house -- or rather houses -- as there were five established during the period of the family's greatest fame and influence. The author makes a strong case that financial constraints definitely limited the actions of nations as they sought to finance their wars and reparations when they lost.

While the two volume work has great sweep, it lacks depth. One senses that since the Rothschild heirs gave the author access to previously unseen source materials, he was reluctant to level serious criticism against the family. Remember, in many cases the financing they provided governments was the necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient for great human suffering -- the very point of these volumes. It is not all a dark picture for the family's activities, far from it, but a blind eye has been turned. More importantly, one turns away from the effort of reading these volumes feeling unfulfilled. Of all that he has written, what was the significance of this great family's prodigious financial activity? Were they a force for good or evil? On balance, has humanity benefitted or been ill served by them? These questions linger as the second volume concludes, and they remain unanswered, or at least, without an answer from this obviously talented and hard working author.

An essential, if unsatisfying, work.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Biz Reader on June 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have to start out by saying overall I enjoyed the book but I would only rate it as an average book. It is a little too detailed and didn't keep my interest from one chapter to the next. It would have been better if it left out 150 pages or so. I found myself doing a lot of skiming over what I would say was boring filler in the book. You can learn a lot about the type of business that that Rothschilds were in but not a lot of how they went about doing it.

After reading this it seems that the Rothschilds were in the business of making large loans to governments and then packaging these loans as bonds and selling them to the public. They were as much bond and commodity traders as they were bankers, which I found interesting. There are numerous quotes from letters written back and forth between family members that will give you a sense of their personalities. The family history is very detailed so if this is the kind of thing you are interested in then you will probably enjoy the book more then I did.
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75 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Amore Roberto on November 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
Those who already know Niall Ferguson do not need any praise for the books he writes: a few years ago I chanced to read his excellent "The Cash Nexus" and this led me to "The Pity of War" and finally to "The House of Rothschild".

Ferguson is a scholar who loves challenges: not just challenging arguments, but also challenges in the sheer volume of sources and research, and finally challenges to the reader in presenting controversial theses (I think specially of those advanced brilliantly, and contentiously, in "The Pity of War" - see my review if interested).

This last effort is mainly an attempt to unveil the Rothschild mythology, restoring an historically accurate perspective both of the family saga and of the banking and financial European history from 1798 to 1848.

The book is a masterpiece for many reasons: not just story of a family (circumscribed to the male members), not just story of a great banking institution in the past two centuries, but also comprehensive financial history of the first half of XIX century... "a rich and nuanced portrait" as the book leaflet reads - that reveals and hides, but also creates an appealing and fascinated image of those turbulent years.

So, it can appeal the history buff, and all those readers interested in financial history (and speculative bubbles) as well as those interested in biography and cultural history.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Cash on December 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
This long-winded and dull history is nothing more than an apologist's love letter to the rich and powerful. I should have stopped with the introduction which claims that the author had the full blessing of the Rothschild family and that they even approved the manuscript. Well, we won't be getting anything negative then will we? No, we won't.

A true historian should be looking for the approval of no one except future generations who will look to these histories for facts about the past. After reading this incredibly detailed book I still have no idea how much power and influence the Rothschild's have today. Ferguson goes to great lengths to tell the reader that Nathan Rothschild's power and influence was not as epic as conspiracy theorists would have us believe. According to articles I have read about Nathan Rothschild, he had a significant role in the Napoleonic Wars and most especially in the Battle of Waterloo. Rothschild's couriers were famously faster at delivering news than even the King of England's and he therefore learned of Napoleon's defeat a day before the Crown. He then used this knowledge to cause a panicked sell off in the English market, buying the bonds up later at a huge discount. This was supposed to be one of the most ingenious financial moves ever made. But not so, says Ferguson. In fact, he says, the opposite is true. The Rothschild fortune was in decline at this time as most of Europe's government's were not borrowing.

Ferguson also dispels many other "Rothschild myths" as though that were the point of his book. One thing he cannot deny though is that Nathan Rothschild was the richest man in Europe during his own lifetime and had more influence than most kings. Despite this Ferguson says practically nothing negative about the man.
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