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The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family Paperback – August 23, 1994

4.5 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

All three of Ron Chernow's books are lengthy and solidly researched, but his background as a journalist shows in his ability here to convey complex material in terms of vivid characters and a well-defined theme. As in his National Book Award-winning business history (The House of Morgan) and his comprehensive biography of John D. Rockefeller (Titan), in The Warburgs Chernow employs marvelously detailed material to trace a single overarching story: the riveting and ultimately tragic odyssey of German Jews. The Warburgs were Hamburg's preeminent banking family from the 18th century until Hitler's Third Reich forced them to hand over their business to Aryans in 1938. But they also boasted among their family members a celebrated art historian (Aby Warburg), a Nobel Prize-winning scientist (Otto Warburg), and the financial angel of the New York City Ballet (Edward Warburg). Two of the "Famous Five" brothers married American women at the turn of the 20th century and became honored members of the Wall Street establishment, so Chernow's lively narrative imparts important U.S. social and economic history as well. But don't let all those fancy credentials intimidate you: The Warburgs features enough flamboyant personalities and high-class gossip to make this as entertaining a read as the latest issue of People magazine. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

The rich, sprawling story of 400 years of a German-Jewish banking family by the author of The House of Morgan .
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 23, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679743596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679743590
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The best way to learn & really "feel" history is to see it in familiar events, like the story of a family. Ron Chernow has achieved this feat with all 3 of the books I have read by him -- the Rockefeller book, the Morgan book and this book. This volume resonated with me more than the others since I am jewish, and since a number of my ancestors were assimilationist german jews (but never of the magnitude of the Warburgs!). The foolishness & the triumphs of this extended family would have made interesting reading even without the context of world events, but that's what makes the difference between a fair book and a great book. Chernow is particularly good at weaving in the world events without sounding ponderous or pedantic.
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Format: Paperback
Ostensibly the study of a remarkable, wealthy dynasty, The Warburgs is a monumental history of Europe, the United States, Israel and even Africa. The author manages to faithfully document the lives of these international bankers, nobel prize winning scientists, explorers and philanthropists against some of the most haunting events in human history.
That the Warburg family loved their German homeland is indisputable. Even after WWII, some descendents could not resist returning to Hamburg, to see the old estates, to embrace old nannies, employees and to on one occassion, steal back a valuable vase that the Nazi's had appropriated elsewhere. They were passionate German citizens later of course spurned and victimized.
From Imperial and then Weimar Germany, the Warburgs were integral to achieving the ends of their leaders; Max Warburg worked tirelessly up until the very end, to secure a peaceful neutralization of Hitler's intention for the Jews. He was involved in assuring a Dutch purchase of Nyassaland in Northern Mozambique which ultimately played a significant role for Rommel's troops.
The family with connections to the Rothschilds, Loebs, Kuhns and others had solid foundations in the U.S. with one Warburg advising Theodore Roosevelt and later, of course, FDR. And logically, from this family where ambivalence toward Judaeism was an on-going theme, there were inevitable struggles and betrayals during the seeding and conceptualization of an Israeli sovereign state.
The book has many levels of interest- it involves a history of culture and the arts, of Jewish European exodus to the U.S and to Israel, it presents scenes of wealthy Jews celebrating with Christmas trees, of kids attending Anglican schools, and even flirtations with far left and deeply conservative politics.
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Format: Paperback
Ron Chernow narrates with panache the riveting tribulations of the Warburgs, a prominent Jewish banking dynasty emerging in Germany in the sixteenth century. The author does an outstanding job in switching back and forth between the Alsterufer Warburgs and the Mittelweg Warburgs, the two rivaling branches of the Warburgs. Ron Chernow indeed vividly recasts the numerous actors of that saga against the economic, political and social backdrop of their time. The author brilliantly helps his readers understand the painful dilemma that many German Jews, keener and keener on assimilation into Germany, faced especially under the Weimar Republic and then under Nazism. Ron Chernow also underlines how several Warburgs emigrating outside Germany had a positive influence on the unfolding of some key domestic and overseas events. Ironically, M.M. Warburg & Co., the German cradle of the banking dynasty that Nazism and then internal infighting almost torpedoed with success, is the only one to remain independent today. M.M. Warburg & Co. is Germany's second largest private bank. S.G. Warburg is now part of Union Bank of Switzerland while Warburg Pincus, successor of E.M. Warburg, belongs to Credit Suisse.
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While less well known than his later biographies of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, this book stands equal to them. Rather than a biography of a single man this is the biography of a most extraordinary family and their impact on banking and the history of the twentieth century. This is a terrific book and one that I recommend without reservation. Chernow tells a very complex story in the tradition of a great novelist, without sacrificing any of the historical details that define the picture of a family whose story mirrors the triumphs and tragedies of the 20th century.

The book traces the history of the Warburg family from the 16th century to the 1990's, with the emphasis on the 20th century. The story is told through the biographies of many of its members, focusing on the brothers Aby, Max, Paul, Felix and Fritz, their sons and nephews. Individual chapters cover individuals, interwoven and progressing through the 20th century. There is the scholarly eldest brother, Aby, who exchanged his birthright for the promise of being provided all the books he desired (and created one of the world's greatest private libraries), the next eldest brother Max who autocratically ran the familie's Hamburg bank, the next brother Paul who made his mark in the US (providing the banking expertise behind his idea for the US Federal Reserve System), Felix who also made his mark in the US (both as a banker, but even more so as a philanthropist) and on to the youngest Fritz who served in both the Prussian and American Armies, and eventually fought to revive the Warburg position as preeminent Hamburg bankers. The book follows these brothers and their nephew Sigmund who made his mark in the US, in Great Britain (becoming Sir Sigmund) and in Europe after WWII.
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