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Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time Hardcover – November 1, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), patriarch of the Rothschild clan, fathered five illustrious sons who made the family name a by-word for banking, fabulous wealth, and Jewish philanthropy. Israeli historian Elon has pieced together the story of the dynasty's founding father, largely unrecorded heretofore. Mayer Amschel spent his life traveling between the humble Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt and the mansions of the prosperous Gentiles whom he served, particularly that of Prince Wilhelm of Hesse. Jews were severely restricted in most areas of their lives, and Rothschild had to conduct himself with appropriate servility in the presence of his masters. However, the displacements of the Napoleonic Wars gave the discreet Rothschild his chance to act as Wilhelm's agent, and his monopoly on the disbursement of the prince's loans was his entry into banking. It was all the start he needed.

From Publishers Weekly

"Well, nobody gets anything for nothing," Mayer Amschel Rothschild wrote from Frankfurt to his 19-year-old son Jacob (soon to be James) in Paris. Learning his lessons well, the brilliant, energetic Jacob would outwit Napoleon's fiscal watchdogs, bankroll his nemesis, Wellington, to the immense profit of the Rothschilds and assist in the undoing of Bonapartist France. The elder Rothschild, born in Frankfurt's crowded, rank Judengasse ghetto in which he lived all his life, would leave his five indefatigable sons his vast fortune and his even vaster pride. Much of his correspondence and papers have disappeared; in 1938, the Nazis even attempted to destroy his tombstone, and the crescent of tenements in which he lived and worked with his shrewd, sturdy wife, Guttle, burned in several conflagrations. No portrait of him exists. Yet out of what survives in documentation and in the memories of contemporaries, Jerusalem-based journalist Elon (Herzl: A Biography) has reconstructed the remarkable life of the creator of a banking empire that flourished despite a pervasive anti-Semitism that denied Frankfurt Jews even the right to leave their walled-in dwellings at night. Born in 1744, Rothschild began as a teenage dealer in foreign coins and later branched into every aspect of money exchange, financing sovereigns, merchants and armies. Posting his sons to other financial centers, he had established, by his death in 1812, a European banking empire. Filling in documentary gaps with 57 evocative illustrations, many of them contemporary, Elon has fashioned a brief but memorable first biography of a near-mythical founding father.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (November 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670868574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670868575
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #671,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on October 2, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Captivating either in spite of or because of it's extremely short length.
Most important thing to note about this book, other then the observation that it is a very good book, is that author really does "paint" a portrait that includes both the Man AND his time.
I felt the attention to the society of Rothschild really paid off at the end of the book. Rothschild is important not merely because he generated a truly epic amount of wealth for his family, but because he serves as a symbol of the manner in which capitalism changed the lives of those who practiced it.
Certainly, the Rothschild clan has been the focus of much anti-semitism and conspiracy theory. As a Jew, I always felt such talk was ridiculous, but I was interested to find the so-called "grain of truth" which, coupled with a long standing, virulent history of anti-semitism served to transform the Rothschilds into a focus for so much bile.
For example, the Rothschild's lent signifigant amounts of capital to the family which held the postal monopoly for the Holy Roman Empire ("Thurn and Taxis" Post). This relationship enabled the Rothschild's to take advantage of the "intelligence gathering" capabilities of the Postal system to their benefit.
This was a theme at the heart of Thomas Pynchon's excellent novel "The Crying of Lot 49". Which I recommend to those who enjoyed in this book.
Like Niall Ferguson's two part saga of the family history, this book was written in cooperation with the Rothschild family.
I recommend this book both for the portrait of the man as well as the portrait of the place and time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here we see, in careful detail, and almost deal by deal (without bogging down and feeling like an endless catalog of small details), how this banking family emerged in a very tough circumstance of the Frankfurt of their time. Secretive networks and key alliances were the name of the game, when so many aggressive and confiscatory officials (if not conquerors) lurked around every corner, and the official restictions on the Jews were heavy and obvious at every moment of every day. Yet, this is the very crucible from which these incredibly effective (family) financial networks emerged, to play such powerful roles in 19th century finance. And, we can see their echoes in many firms of today.
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Format: Paperback
Model biography about the life of the founder of the Rotschild dynasty.
Out of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt Meyer Rotschild became Court_factor (business manager) of the richest man in the world in late 18th/early 19th century: the landgrave of Hessen.
The starting point of his fortune were gold coin transactions with the landgrave.
After establishing his financial house in Frankfurt, he sent his sons to France and England, where his son Nathan made a fortune during the continental blockade decreed by Napoleon; he succeeded in continuing to trade illegally in English goods with a margin of 50 per cent.
Excellent picture of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt and of the social position of the Jews at the beginning of the 19th century. This book throws also a bleak light on the social condition of the poor, where soldiers were ruthlessly pressed into service and afterwards sold (a common business practice!) and where children were summarily hanged for stealing a loaf of bread.
A model biography: all mentioned facts are based on legal and other documents.
This book gives short shrift to all myths surrounding the origin of the Rotschild fortune.
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Format: Hardcover
Heard the taped version of FOUNDER: A PORTRAIT OF THE
FIRST ROTHSCHILD AND HIS TIME by Amos Elon . . . Meyer
Amschel Rotschild (1744-1812), the patriarch of the clan,
fathered five illustrious sons who made the family name a
byword for banking, fabulous wealth and Jewish philanthropy . . .yet prior to this book, I had known nothing about the dynasty's founding father . . . Jews had been severely restricted in most areas of their lives in the ghetto of Frankfurt . . .how one man was able to get beyond that impediment and succeed made for an interesting history lesson . . . I also enjoyed getting a sense
of how it was to live in the eighteenth-century.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was the second book I read by Amos Elon, the first being "The Pity of it All". Once again Elon succeeded to make a subject matter which is complex and could be really boring an interesting and good read.

He manages to put Amschel Rothschild's life in context with this time, and is also able to point out the limitations this man felt throughout his life despite his extraordinary success as a businessman. Having grown up in the stifling conditions of the Frankfurter Judengasse, Rothschild seemingly was never quite able to change his self-image away from the low status Jews had during that time in Frankfurt.

This was an all-around fascinating read - educational and riveting at the same time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book may not have impressed me as much if I had not lived in Germany for several years and wondered about the Jews before the time of Hitler. We think how terrible the holocaust was, but life in the ghettos was terrible for Jews long before Hitler came to power. Yet, families like the Rothschilds possessed the determination and the ingenuity to rise above it. Really an amazing story!
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