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.
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