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

3.9 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the House of Rothschild Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone interested in finance, European history or the rise of one spectacularly successful Jewish family will find the first volume of this history of the Rothschilds spellbinding. Equipped with unprecedented access to pre-1915 Rothschild archives, Oxford historian Ferguson begins the family history with Frankfurt merchant Mayer Amschel, but the real story starts with the arrival of the most capable of his sons, Nathan Mayer, in England 200 years ago. Each of Mayer's five sons was located in different cities?Paris, London, Vienna, Naples and Frankfurt. Combined with a mandated unity that kept the brothers remarkably close while excluding daughters, in-laws and strangers, this geographic dispersal gave the family's financial firm an unbeatable edge, despite Mayer's sons being of unequal competence. N.M. Rothschild is the one Ferguson chooses as his protagonist (his great-great-grandson suggested the project to the author). It was largely because of this Finanzbonaparte that from 1815 on, the Rothschilds were everywhere part of Europe?they dominated the international bond market; bought and sold commodities such as cotton, tobacco, sugar, copper and mercury; and influenced Metternich, Wellington, Queen Victoria, Bismarck, Gladstone and Disraeli. Using his access to the 13,000 entries in the Rothschild files, Ferguson debunks myths and carefully reconstructs the truth. Not only has he done a brilliant job of depicting this far-flung family but he also manages to offer an amazing insider's look at the financial, political and military aspects of early 19th-century European life. His exhaustive study surpasses anything about the Rothschilds to date. (Nov.) FYI: Ferguson's second volume on the Rothschilds is due out next year.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Revised ed. edition (November 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140240845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140240849
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
Ferguson has written a rare work: a family chronicle which is both a compelling read, and is good history. The text is richly detailed, while the very complete footnotes provide the reader with a clear sense of the broad scholarship that has gone into the book. One caveat: while Ferguson points out in his introduction that the work is not a financial history, he unfortunately doesn't paint as rich a picture of the financial markets of the early 19th century as the book requires. While the house's trading history makes for a fascinating read, it takes place without any contextual comparison of how other market makers behaved and traded (other than an occasional comparison of profits and losses). Still, though, it's a minor criticism of a great book. Highly recommended.
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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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