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Showing 1-10 of 15 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 22 reviews
on November 20, 2016
I didn’t have any particular interest in the Rothschild family. A friend of mine recommended this book to me because of its observant and accurate portrayal of Jewish life in eighteenth century Germany. It was a time of big change, to understate things. The European economy was more and more capitalist, but the numerous principalities of Germany had a political structure that was more feudal than bourgeois, and the very lack of a unified state held back the development of capitalism there, and continued the oppression of the Jews. They had to follow all kinds of restrictions as to where they could live, and how they could earn their living, and the Rothschilds' Frankfurt was one of the most restrictive cities.

The Rothschilds were an extraordinary, not a typical Jewish family: Of the large number of Jewish money lenders and money changers under feudalism very few made it into the world of modern capitalist banking (See The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation).

While Amos Elon sees the Rothschilds as “the inventors of multi-national haute finance, the new force which gave impetus to capitalism throughout the nineteenth century,” capitalism was already well on its way as an international system before then. (See The Communist Manifesto and Capital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics).

Analysis aside, this is biography the way it should be written, even if the “and his/her time” is not part of the title. People can only be understood in the context of their historical epoch, and too much biography today ignores that, and even ignores what the subject is best known for, in order to focus on their love lives and such.

There were loads of thing I didn’t know, like the fact that there was a Judeo-German language other than Yiddish—Judendeutsch—based on Hebrew and the Frankfurt dialect of German. This period was also the beginning of Reform Judaism.

The French Republic had established civil equality, but during Napoleon’s occupation of Frankfurt and other cities, they did not fully try to enforce French law. Plus, Rothschild and the broader Jewish community were too tied to the German princes to ally with Napoleon.

Rothschild and other Jews had paid a huge sum for Jewish emancipation, which they got in 1811, but rights can’t be purchased, they can only be won in struggle. Elon writes: “The precariousness of these freedoms was reflected in their abrogation soon after the fall of Napoleon….”

A few years after this, in Trier, Herschel Marx, like Rothschild from a long line of rabbis, converted from Judaism to Lutheranism in order to be able to practice law. His son Karl, a Young Hegelian in 1843 argued in favor of Jewish emancipation in a polemic with Bruno Bauer, who thought Jewish emancipation could only come about by abolishing religion. Marx wrote: “If Bauer asks the Jews: Have you, from your standpoint, the right to want political emancipation? We ask the converse question: Does the standpoint of political emancipation give the right to demand from the Jew the abolition of Judaism and from man the abolition of religion?” (This is from On The Jewish Question, the essay all the “experts” cite as “proof of Marx’s anti-Semitism”).

In 1948, Marx and his friend Engels, by now communists, took part in the revolution for national unification and a democratic republic. Their explanation of the reason it failed, written by Engels, was that the German bourgeoisie was more afraid of the working class than of semi-feudal rulers. (See Revolution and Counter-Revolution or Germany in 1848).
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on May 14, 2014
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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on March 29, 2015
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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on August 29, 2014
This book brings light to the terrible conditions of the jews in Germany under Protestant rule ( as well as under catholic ) and their resilience.

The R. Founder through a life of hard work and smart ( sometimes not legal and even considered criminal) actions , built with the support of his wife , sons, daughters and in-laws a strong commercial and financial empire. And he used his prestige and money to improove the status of the community of jews in the early 19th century society.

Very bad to see today in France the growth of anti-semitism when compared to the enlighted message of the French Revolution considering all men equal, citizens, no matter religion, race(?), or social origin.

The founder is very compelling narrative that will make you understand the Founder times, how they did business and the values to cultivate for a sustainable activity in a age of uncertainties.
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on March 9, 2015
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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on October 2, 2003
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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on August 26, 2014
The story of Rothschild's empire's founding was fascinating. It shows what single-minded determination can do. The book, so far removed from the time of the subject, has a lot of "what might have happened" parts but they don't detract from the story much. The history of the Jews in Frankfurt also was very enlightening.
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on March 3, 2014
This is a well written history of the Rothchild family. It is engaging while providing solid historical context and a fascinating sense of the driven nature of its founding members.
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on June 19, 2013
This book was incredible. Elon paints an amazing picture of Rothschild that comes to life, and it starts all the way back in the Judengasse, then gets better with every page. Excellent read.
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on June 28, 2016
Amazing book! So interesting and inspiring!
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