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High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg Paperback – Bargain Price, June 28, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Siegmund Warburg (1902–1982), scion of a Jewish banking dynasty, fled Nazi Germany to London, where he became a leading banker and an informal economic adviser to prime ministers—but his importance doesn't shine through this unfocused biography. Financial historian Ferguson (The Ascent of Money) styles him a financial innovator (he engineered Britain's first hostile takeover), a pioneer of European economic integration (he helped invent the Eurobond), a prophet of globalization, a paragon of fiscal rectitude whose principles could have helped us avoid the current economic mess, and a deep thinker about international affairs. Unfortunately, Ferguson doesn't make a compelling argument for his subject's significance. Laymen will find his sketchy treatment of Warburg's feats of high finance rather opaque and his case for Warburg the humanist and intellectual weak (and undermined by his subject's obsession with handwriting analysis). Ferguson uses Warburg's life as a window onto European unification and Britain's postwar economic malaise, but his account, which is constantly distracted by deal making and office politics at Warburg's banking partnership, is too unsystematic to do these topics justice. The view from Warburg's lofty perch doesn't make for a discerning perspective on the world around him. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

No longer the banking force it formerly was, the Warburg name belongs to historians now. Ron Chernow chronicled the clan in The Warburgs (1993), and here the notable economic historian Ferguson (The Ascent of Money, 2008) depicts Siegmund Warburg (1902–82), who in his prime was the most important and influential member of the family. Verbose for someone trained in accountancy, Warburg amassed written opinions about virtually everything, furnishing Ferguson with an abundance of source material that he synthesizes with a practiced hand. Throughout his life, Warburg was never passionately interested in money. His early aspiration for an academic or political career was thwarted by the Nazi ascendance in his native Germany. Warburg immigrated to London, where, from the platform of his reestablished banking business, he involved himself in intelligence during WWII and in proffering advice to Labour Party politicians afterward. Sketching in the bibliophilic Warburg's intellectual interests, Ferguson's comprehensive biography ably integrates the private, public, financial, and philosophical facets of Siegmund Warburg's character. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143119400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143119401
  • ASIN: B0064XIF8Q
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,949,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kirk H Sowell on July 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ferguson's biography of Siegmund Warburg will be of strong interest for readers who find financial news interesting and are looking for a broader perspective on the geopolitics of finance, in particular Britain and the European bond market. It will surely be of less interest to general readers, especially American readers, than some of Ferguson's writings on more contemporary issues, and frankly would not be selling so well were the author someone other than Mr. Ferguson.

"High Financier" can be divided into three parts based on the word "Lives" in the subtitle. The first "life" of Siegmund Warburg was his German one, from 1902-1933, covered in the first 90 pages of the book. His second "life" was his "Anglo-American" life - this runs from 1934 through the 1950s, or about page 200 in the book. The focus here is on Warburg's efforts at increasing transatlantic financial ties. The remainder of the book, slightly more than half, includes his "Anglo-German" life, or his work from the 1950s through his death in 1982 which primarily focused on European integration.

That first part will be of most interest to readers interested in German history and the interwar period. One intriguing point is what Ferguson describes as Warburg's ambivalent feelings toward the Nazi rise to power. As an educated German Jew he was of course repelled by their anti-Semitism and thuggish manner. Yet Warburg's diary and correspondence show that elements of the Nazi program appealed to him. This appears to be because as a life-long man of the political left, Warburg felt a strong attraction to collectivist policy and hostility for the decadence of the bourgeoisie, and thus hoped a coalition government including them might do some good.
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Format: Hardcover
As I wrote in a review of one of Professor Ferguson's other works, I believe it impossible for him to write a boring book. But he's given it a good shot here. Recognizing that Warburg was a financial pioneer in many respects, author of the first British hostile takeover, the progenitor of the Eurobond, and the man generally credited with restoring the City of London to its pre-World War II stature as an international financial center, he is also a surpassingly uninteresting subject for a lengthy biography. As colorless as his custom-made business clothing, as indifferent to his wife and children as he was to any activity, except reading, not directly related to his financial endeavors, the Professor's very best efforts to highlight, or, indeed, winkle out, his human side are largely unavailing. True, he held himself and his firm's underlings to the highest business standards, and the book's extensive discussions of the intramural squabbles and power plays within his London and other offices make for some interesting reading for those of us intrigued by management politics. Also intriguing in this regard, though not perhaps a business practice to be emulated, was his tendency to make enduring snap judgments about managerial prospects, once forming an instant skepticism about a candidate who consumed too many peanuts at a cocktail party! True, too, that he was widely read, at least in German authors, and applied the teachings of Freud and others to his daily and business lives. Also true that among his quirky beliefs was an unshakeable confidence in graphology, that is, personality assessment using hand writing samples. But that's about it. Not only would you probably not want him for a friend, but you'd never get to that issue because he almost certainly would not want you.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I worked for Siegmund Warburg and his firm. He was a great financier and a classicist as well. He took books with him on vacation and read and reread them. He lived on Eaton Square in London and his firm was at 30 Gresham St.
He revitalized London as a banking center after the war and orchestrated the takeover of British Aluminum, first hostile takeover in Britain. His partners were concerned since it flew in the face of City practice. However it resulted in a great deal of new business for the firm. Though I don't rememember it being in the book, he alway insisted on turquoise ink for signing his letters.

The book recounts Sir Siegmund's interest in graphology. I had to write an essay to be hired which presumably was sent to his graphologist.

He originated the eurobond market which helped make London a financial center.

It is a fascinating biography about a extraordinary man.
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Sir Siegmund Warburg was a seminal figure in the renaissance of post-war UK finance. He was a pioneer of the Euro-Yen market and one of the last great "relationship" bankers. As a young banker at Warburg Paribas Becker in New York, I was heavily influenced by his approach to working with clients and colleagues. Many of my closest friendships today are the result of relationships formed while working at the firm which bore his name. He cautioned all of his colleagues to be careful with their personal reputations, because "Trust Capital" was the hardest to replenish.

Ferguson's book may draw a smaller audience in the U.S. because Sir Siegmund's reputation is less well-know here. Nevertheless the lessons to be drawn from Sir Siegmund's efforts are as relevant today as they were when he was teaching them by example 50 years ago.
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