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Morgan: American Financier Paperback – March 22, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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As Americans cope with the social and industrial changes wrought by the computer age, we seem ready to view with more sympathy the men who shaped the similarly disruptive economic revolution at the turn of the last century. Less than a year after Titan, Ron Chernow's sweeping biography of capitalist par excellence John D. Rockefeller, comes Jean Strouse's searching analysis of J.P. Morgan (1837-1913), the merchant banker whose financial prowess enabled the great American businesses to grow and thrive. Like Chernow, Strouse takes a nuanced view of a man reviled by his contemporaries as a sinister monopolist. Morgan sought to stabilize the volatile American economy and raise the cash needed to fuel its meteoric expansion. His methods were controversial, particularly his fondness for industrial "combinations" that dampened competition, but Strouse's lucid résumé of the historical backdrop illuminates the thinking behind Morgan's actions. As in her groundbreaking biography Alice James, the author never settles for received wisdom, instead reading previously neglected documents with a sharp eye to offer a fresh interpretation. She vividly limns Morgan's imperious personality and such extracurricular interests as his superb art collection. But it's Strouse's ability to clearly convey complex financial material that distinguishes this book. Her chapter on the panic of 1907, which Morgan was instrumental in halting, is as exciting as a good thriller and far more instructive. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Often celebrated as the ideal capitalist or excoriated as the robber baron who most epitomized the excesses and iniquities of the Gilded Age, J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) has, in Strouse, finally been accorded a biographer whose talents match his enormous legacy. Strouse (whose Alice James won the Bancroft Prize) seamlessly weaves Morgan's exploits as America's leading banker with his frenetic social life, in the process vividly evoking the spirit of the Gilded Age. Though she captures Morgan's famed imperiousness and bluster, she paints a much fuller portrait of Morgan than has hitherto been available. Morgan was the consummate financier. Responsible for the consolidation of most of the nation's railroads as well as the formation of U.S. Steel, he also helped underwrite the creation of General Electric, International Harvester and AT&T. Before there was a Federal Reserve Board, he functioned as America's de facto central banker. He famously enjoyed his wealth and wasn't shy about spreading his money around. A passionate lover of the arts, he served as president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and played a major role in building that institution into one of the finest of its kind. Strouse spent more than 10 years researching her latest work, and readers are rewarded with numerous nuggets about the colorful people who surrounded Morgan. The Morgan who emerges from these pages is, for all his hard ambition and ruthlessness, not merely ruthless and greedy. By blending the different facets of this most complicated man, Strouse humanizesAwithout shrinking or whitewashingAone of America's mythic figures. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 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: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st Perennial ed edition (March 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060955899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060955892
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,326,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By John W. Cotner on February 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
i read ron chernow's book on j. p. morgan before reading this one and initially did not think i would like this one as much, but ended up liking it more. i recommend reading both of them to get a complete picture of morgan, who was, with john d. rockefeller and theodore roosevelt, perhaps the most influential man in america between 1875 and 1925.
chernow's book is really about the house of morgan, and j. p. morgan dies halfway through it, but jean strouse devotes all of her attention to j. p. morgan himself, both to his business and pleasure. he was a man of large ego and appetites, but enough of a fiduciary to be prudent about what he did in all spheres.
both biographers, chernow and strouse, seemed to grow fond of their subject, which is not unusual, except that morgan is a difficult man to warm to. at times they seemed to rationalize or explain away some pretty nasty behavior, e.g., his bigotry and prejudice, which, again, as a fiduciary, he did not let get in the way of making money. if i were jewish, i would not be nearly so tolerant of morgan's virulent anti-semitism as chernow and strouse charitably were. they seemed to accept it as a by- product of his time and class, and i think every biographer ends up liking his subject.
morgan could be an arrogant, haughty jerk and a prick to people, including his family, and was indifferent to his second wife -- his first, the love of his life, having died right after they were married -- and son -- an ineffectual but well-meaning typical "scion" -- but morgan grew up when the upper classes felt entitled to think and act that way, assuming the rightness of their noblesse station in this world. and, he was in a hardball business and playing for keeps with the biggest money of anyone, at any time.
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Format: Hardcover
Strouse goes into amazing detail (at times a bit thick, but always fascinating) as she charts Morgan's entire life--out of which context emerge the outlines of a number of the most significant shifts in emerging global finance coming out of the American Civil War: 1) moving captial to the US from Europe to refinance Civil War debt and contribute to the building of the US industrial base 2)a broad shift from debt-based financing to equity-based financing, and 3)the (at the time) scandalous shift in valuing companies from book-value to multiples of earnings (the financial media of the day descried that Morgan, at one point, got international backing for a shipping combination valued at between 2 and 3 times annual revenues).
Insights the Strouse bio makes accessible inform the daily world around us in bounteous ways that make this book an incredibly worthwhile (as well as compelling) read. In this morning's WSJ, there was discussion of Iran now making good on previously nationalized assets so as to make Iran a more attractive place for international investors; the discussion of the bond market in light of the stock market's powerful gains continues; and individual investors as well as institutions are forever coming to terms with the fact that the market continues to support companies with what have traditionally been considered wildly high p/e ratios.
Add to the mix that Morgan was a fascinating man--as interested in the details of the dresses he had made for his wife, daughters, and mistresses as in the contents of his library, the speed of and fittings on his latest yacht, as well as the characters of the men who worked for him and with whom he chose to form investing syndicates, and you have a delightful, powerful biography.
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Format: Hardcover
Ms. Strouse has confused detail with insight: after wading through this book I still have no real understanding of who the man was. Perhaps Morgan is just a difficult subject, but Ms. Strouse tackles him by giving you reams of data in the hope that this will show just how well she's researched her subject. In fact, you DON'T care about the name of EACH painting he bought, or WHEN, or for how much. She tells you this ad nauseam. You DON'T have to know the name of each and every ship he sailed in, nor the time and date of each voyage he took. She DOESN'T have any grasp of the financial world, and it shows: her discussions of his life's work, finance, are shallow. I would absolutely NOT recommend this book. And just to show you all that I'm not a curmudgeon, I LOVED the following biographies: Truman (McCulloch); Churchill (Manchester); Rockefeller (Chernow)...Ms. Strouse needs to learn that a judicious selection of facts is crucial to presenting a balanced view. Repetition of every fact you've learned about your subject is just overload.
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Format: Paperback
In her book, "Morgan: American Financier" Jean Strouse has made a bold attempt to capture the essence of the man whose ideas shaped America's economy from the Civil War up through, at least, the New Deal. While the style of the writing of "Morgan: American Financier" may seem "dry", we have to remember that Ms. Strouse is not writing a biography of a colorful person like Nellie Bly or William Randolph Hearst. Still, she captures the tensions behind high-stake financing, plutocratic rivalries (Morgan vs. Andrew Carnegie, for example), and the ambitious attempt to rein in the wild speculation of railroad magnates. What makes the text of this book engaging for those not inclined to read these types of biographies, is that Strouse never lets you forget how much is at stake, not just in terms of dollars but in terms of the future of America's economic stability and growth.
For me, the chapters on JP Morgan's relationship with his father, Junius, and the internal struggles he had with traditional financing versus the role of financer as corporate director were at times touching and admirable. Specifically, the chapters entitled "Family Affairs and Professional Ethics" and "Fathers and Sons" were the most successful and enjoyable. Bottom line: if you enjoy biographies/histories of the people who shaped American capitalism, this is a wonderful book. But even if that isn't your cup of tea, there is a lot of the human element to make this great reading.
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