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Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good Hardcover – September 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Jesse Jones is one of those vital figures who has inexplicably slipped into the historical shadows.  Now Steven Fenberg has given us a wonderful new biography of a man who played a critical role in the most tumultuous years of the American Century, bringing Jones back to vivid life."--Jon Meacham, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and the bestselling Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of An Epic Friendship
(Jon Meacham author of the Pulitzer Prize winning American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White)

"Fenberg revives the singular accomplishments that Jesse Jones made to the economy and defense of America. . . Fenberg is community affairs officer for the Houston Endowment. He initiated the oral history project that became the PBS award winning documentary, 'Brother, Can You Spare a Billion: The Story of Jesse H. Jones.' Fenberg is a Houston native."--Jewish Herald-Voice

(Aaron Howard Local Literati 2011-09-22)

"Fenberg's biography of Jones, Unprecedented Power, shows the Houston magnate leading government into a rescue of American capitalism through lending and public-private partnerships in infrastructure and new industries."--Dallas Morning News

(Jim Landers Dallas Morning News 2011-10-19)

"The biography is a fascinating read about the history of Houston and the man with an eighth-grade education who helped build the downtown skyline, saved the city's banks during the Great Depression, and began one of the most recognized philanthropic institutions. But more than that, it speaks to the city's problems today."--OutSmart Magazine

(Marene Gustin OutSmart Magazine 2011-11-02)

"Given his unprecedented power—which provides the apt title of Steven Fenberg’s meaty new biography—it is no wonder that in 1941 TIME magazine dubbed Jones the second most powerful man in Washington (after President Franklin D. Roosevelt). Roosevelt himself teasingly called him ‘Jesus H. Jones' . . . Fenberg’s comprehensive biography should revive interest in this remarkable capitalist and public servant."--Wilson Quarterly

(Mark Reutter 2012-02-08)

"Steven Fenberg’s recent book . . . reads something like a grand invention: a boy with an eighth-grade education becomes the most powerful man in the nation (next to President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and helps the federal government, using social programs, rescue millions of people and generate revenue.”--The Texas Observer

(Cecily Sailer 2012-02-08)

“The name of Jesse H. Jones is legendary in the annals of our city's history. Now, 55 years after his death, a definitive biography has been written.”--Houston Business Journal

(Betty T. Chapman 2012-02-08)

“Credited with helping to establish Houston as a focal point of industry, Jesse H. Jones has been feted for decades as one of the country's most revered kings of capitalism. . . His exploits are laid out in a new biography, Unprecedented Power.”--Houston Business Journal

(Houston Business Journal 2012-02-08)

“Biography of Jesse Jones, the Houston entrepreneur who helped save the country from the Great Depression.”--Texas Monthly

(Textra Credit 2012-02-08)

“Fenberg expands on the PBS special he produced a decade ago and offers insight into a man whose economic and political acumen would come in very handy today.”--Austin Chronicle

(James Renovitch 2012-02-08)

“If you don't know about Jesse H. Jones and the heavy hands he played in Houston and Washington in the last century, you should read this book.”--Dallas Morning News

(Jim Landers 2012-02-08)

“A somewhat-forgotten page of U.S. history that holds enormous relevance today.”--Kirkus Reviews

(Kirkus Reviews 2012-02-08)

"Steven Fenberg's book, Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good, reveals the life of a man who wielded great power in business and government circles on a national livel."--Houston Business Journal

(Houston Business Journal 2011-12-16)

"Fenberg has two objectives:to tell the story of this largely forgotten figure and to demonstrate how his ideas could be relevant to our present financial crisis...meaty new biography . . . Fenberg's comprehensive biography should revive interest in this remarkable capitalist and public servant."--Wilson Quarterly

(Mark Reutter Wilson Quarterly Winter 2012)

“In this meticulously researched, briskly written biography, Steven Fenberg reconstructs the signal life and career of a man he calls '[t]he most powerful person in the nation during the Great Depression and World War II—next to Franklin Roosevelt (p. 1). Fenberg makes a strong case for Jones’s influence and, in so doing, not only recovers the forgotten history of this key player but also intervenes forcefully in contemporary historical and political debates about the New Deal and the nature of American politics. Fenberg’s biography makes clear just how deeply invested in saving capitalism the New Deal was. Jones’s career illustrates the New Deal and wartime mobilization programs for what they were: the close collaboration between business and government (p. 263). Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good illuminates the complex workings of that partnership and the formative role of businessmen in shaping it. Recovering the history of a largely forgotten New Deal figure, Fenberg’s biography reminds readers just how much New Dealers accomplished and how they accomplished it.”—Journal of Southern History
(Bruce J. Schulman Journal of Southern History 2013-03-12)

“If ever a man personified the word titan, it was Jesse H. Jones. His influence was felt around the nation and the world when he was a chief architect of the plans that restored the U.S. economy during the Great Depression and militarized industry in time to win World War II. Steven Fenberg’s biography, Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good, is a compelling story of a Houstonian who wielded power in ways that helped build his city and his country into powerhouses. It is a must read for those wanting to learn how a great nation -- and a great man -- can respond to difficult challenges.”--James A. Baker, III; 61st U.S. Secretary of State
(John B. Williams 2013-09-30)

About the Author

STEVEN FENBERG, community affairs officer at the Houston Endowment, was executive producer and writer of the Emmy Award–winning documentary film, Brother, Can You Spare a Billion? The Story of Jesse H. Jones, which was narrated by Walter Cronkite.



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 616 pages
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603444343
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603444347
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By F. Thompson on January 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished reading a very interesting book about an American Hero that had unbelievable influence and power beginning during the Great Depression and continuing through the Second World War. No, I'm not talking about President Roosevelt. In fact this person never held a publically elected position at the local, state or national level. One of the amazing things about him was that he was an eight grade drop out and through hard work, privileged opportunity and business savvy he became known as the most powerful unelected government official in the world. In today's climate of Washington grid lock he provides an example of what can be done through collective effort to get an economy back on track.

The person I am speaking about is Jessie Jones. He had as much influence on what we know today as Houston as any person in its history. Although he lived during an era of deep segregation all evidence seemed to indicate he respected all people. He gave generously to orphanages' both black and white. He played a significant role in providing scholarships at Prairie View A. & M. University. He served on the Board of Trustees at Tuskegee Institute. He also provided scholarships that helped to establish the nationally recognized Prairie View A. & M. University College of Nursing.

I recommend you get this book. It not only provides background on what Houston was like during that era but also the role he played during this very critical time in American history.

Happy Reading
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Alan Wingo on December 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The moral of this biography should be - to paraphrase George Santayana - "those who do not study history are doomed to repeat its mistakes." It speaks to the state of our current political debate in the Great Recession while describing the life and times of Jesse Jones and his incredible role in the recovery from the Great Depression and the success of America as "the arsenal of democracy."

Mr. Fenberg reveals how an entrepreneur, multimillionaire, landlord and Democrat left his business empire in answer to the call of duty of his country in its darkest hour to serve both as President Hoover's and FDR's head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. It also is a tribute to public service over greed and pragmatism over ideology. Mr. Jones wrote his own tribute when he endorsed President Roosevelt at the 1936 Democratic National Convention:

"I am not one who favors government in business but when business runs amuck, and private credit is no longer available, the government must step in. I have seen so much distress, so much tragedy, so many broken men in the four years I have been doing relief work for the business of our country that I want no more of it. Lifting a hundred [and] twenty-five million people out of the depths of despair and degradation in which they found themselves by March 1933, bringing them to a state of comparative comfort and happiness in the period of three short years, is an accomplishment that none of us thought possible, and one for which the entire nation owes a lasting debt of gratitude..."

The book unveils how little the politics of power has changed between our times and Jones'. How politicians can chose power over public service, politics over the greater good, how man is condemned to the same errors under the same conditions when ideology and influence trump reason and humanism.

A very worthwhile read for our times.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Babcock on June 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We need a leader like Jesse Jones today - an entrepreneur with only an eighth-grade education who rocketed to Houston to a world class city and as the chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation saved the country during the depression. This is an insightful look at how the government can help build infrastructure, saved homes, banks and businesses. Steven Fenberg offers a timely perspective as we struggle with the world economy today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hal R. on December 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Perhaps biased by the fact I was partially raised in Houston when JHJ was actively engaged in the city’s life, particularly the 1948 ~ 52 era when he sold the half-block of downtown, bounded by Main/McKinney/Travis streets, to F.W. Woolworth stores for the price of $1000.00 / front-inch of property, which became site of the world's largest Woolworth 5 & 10 store to that date!

This fact was most openly verified by the pair of 24^ solid gold cufflinks created by Sweeney's Jewelers, each in the form of a one inch ruler with "$1000" engraved on their face, and displayed for weeks in Sweeney's store window – located street-level in the City National Bank building directly across from the property at Main & McKinney -- with the story calligraphied upon a small show-card for all the world to see.

Until this read, the facts of the foregone described property sale & cufflink episode and his Federal Reserve Board participation at one time were my only real knowledge of the man, albeit: Given the biographer was true to a completely expository faith, within his work; I find the man, Jessie H. Jones to be an excellent example of the true, equitably charitable American entrepreneurial spirit – particularly, Texan in nature – which fits my now, 79-year/old recall of just what made this country worthy of my 30-month military/paramilitary combat-time investment, against the real prospect I & my posterity too MAY be able to achieve such success

Alas: How far from that spirit, we have fallen as a nation can only be measured by the conversions, of those Jessie H. Jones’ who might have come of our history, into these academia spawned, megalomaniacal power leaches by whom we are being immersed into this diabolical cesspool of dissipation today. ...
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