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The House of Morgan: An American Banking…
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The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern… (original 1990; edition 2010)

by Ron Chernow

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1,1571712,961 (3.88)12
Winner of the National Book Award and now considered a classic, The House of Morgan is the most ambitious history ever written about an American banking dynasty. Acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal as "brilliantly researched and written," the book tells the rich, panoramic story of four generations of Morgans and the powerful, secretive firms they spawned. It is the definitive account of the rise of the modern financial world. A gripping history of banking and the booms and busts that shaped the world on both sides of the Atlantic, The House of Morgan traces the trajectory of the J. P. Morgan empire from its obscure beginnings in Victorian London to the crash of 1987. Ron Chernow paints a fascinating portrait of the private saga of the Morgans and the rarefied world of the American and British elite in which they moved. Based on extensive interviews and access to the family and business archives, The House of Morgan is an investigative masterpiece, a compelling account of a remarkable institution and the men who ran it, and an essential book for understanding the money and power behind the major historical events of the last 150 years.… (more)
Member:jsk85
Title:The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance
Authors:Ron Chernow
Info:Grove Press (2010), Paperback, 848 pages
Collections:Your library
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The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow (1990)

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Picked this book up after hearing it referenced a few times throughout Yale's 2019 DeVane Lectures "On Power and Politics". The references themselves were those curious ones that seem to blur the line between politics and big business – particularly finance. The first three quarters of the book offer a nice ratio between the Morgan family biography and the Morgan institution (the so-called House of Morgan) with more emphasis on the latter. The book splits its history up into three chronologically ordered ages which Chernow aptly named The Baronial Age, The Diplomatic Age and The Casino Age.

The Baronial Age begins in the pre-Civil War years, when the United States had little renown or respect internationally and hardly much more domestically. Noting that the primary financial instrument of the age was government bonds, and that the demand for these bands was a reflection of the sentiment toward the underwriter, the intricacy of finance and politics becomes apparent almost immediately.

There's also a few good tales here, particularly those concerning the insanity that was the domestic railroad industry. Stories of the coercive marketing campaigns used to lure settlers out to towns lining the tracks of each line or the recount of The Battle of the Susquehanna where two competing railroad barons hopped on two trains, on the same track, heading in opposite directions with over 1,000 other purposfully crashed in a head-on collision and then fought each other with fists and insults amongst the wreckage.

The Diplomatic Age begins shortly before the first World War where the incestuous worlds of high finance and politics are starkly revealed. As the House of Morgan ascended to international clout, proving itself to be sound in function and flush with capital, it was no longer a merchant banker or peddler of government bonds. As Chernow writes: "The Baronial Age was one of unbridled laissez-faire, marked by often unqualified hostility on the part of bankers toward government. But in the dawning of the Diplomatic Age, there would be an explicit fusion of financial and government power. In time it would be hard to disentagnle the House of Morgan from various aspects of Anglo-American policy."

Among some of the most interesting clients of the House of Morgan are those of Japan and Italy, from the end of the first World War and remaining so until US entry into the second World War. Also, hearing about global finance's interest in China and the failed attempts made by Western firms to infiltrate it.

The beginning of the Casino age begins the ossification of the financial systems as we find them today. After the second World War, the United States imposes both its political and financial preferences on the rest of the world and, as finance proves to be more universal in its appeal (less ideological baggage), and so most of the stories and drama revealed here are more akin to those sensational scandals. There's no doubt about the influence of the financial institutions on global affairs throughout, but whereas before, in the Diplomatic Age, these social and political influences were intentional, the Casino Age appears to be less concerned with the existential and more impetuously concerned with ever-increasing margins and ever-expanding markets.

Don't let the title or genre (finance) fool you, Chernow offers a fantastic historical recount of modern finance and manages to root it within the context of the Morgan family history. The biographical elements are secondary to the primary parts of Chernow's work and I think their inclusion is a nice way to track the progress through time. The final section was of the least interest to me, if only because it introduced so many new CEO's, board members, and politicians (by this time the House of Morgan existed as three independent brands and had thousands of employees) that it was hard to keep any part of the story entirely coherent. Also, since most of the functions of finance by this time had been relegated to the oversight of the Glass-Steagall, the FDIC and the SEC, most of the scandalous moments were so rooted in the impossible laws of financial regulation that they paled in comparison to the previous ages of Baron and Diplomat.

Lots of interesting history here that undoubtedly played a large part in the modern world. ( )
  mitchanderson | Jan 17, 2021 |
J P Morgan & Co (Subject); Morgan Stanley (Subject)
  LOM-Lausanne | May 1, 2020 |
Unfortunately I am not educated sufficiently to understand much of was written.
I had to give it up before I got through a third of it
From the reviews I would think it is excellent ( )
  busterrll | Apr 12, 2019 |
“THE HOUSE OF MORGAN” is a gripping history of banking and the booms and busts that shaped the world on both sides of the Atlantic, The House of Morgan illuminates the J. P. Morgan empire from its beginnings in Victorian London to the crash of 1987. This book provides a fascinating history of the private saga of the Morgan’s and the rarefied world of American and British elites in which they operated. This book is an investigative masterpiece of the remarkable institution and the “Money” that created the power behind the major historical events of the past two centuries
My thirst for knowledge almost met its match in this extensive saga. However, I lead you all on to read this excellent account of the Morgan dynasty and of the aristocratic banker’s world. 750pp of continuous history from 1830 to 1990. A history of Bank “Panics” and international relations across wars and other international intrigue’s. However, this book allows one to connect the dots across 150 years of hard work and intrigue. This book gives a whole new meaning to “banker’s hour’s” with so much open intrigue and skull-doggery. A truly gripping account of real-life international financial and political maleficence. However, at this time we are left with the lily-white “JP Morgan-Chase” bank, sitting on 3 trillion US dollars in assets as the #1 US savings Bank. I highly recommend this first-rate account as established by Ron Chernow in 1989. Immediately Prior to this read, I imbibed another historical saga of Doris Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit”. One can never read too much history! ( )
  MichaelHodges | Sep 15, 2018 |
I find financial histories riveting. At first glance, I found the mammoth size of this book a bit of a deterrent, but this was not at all the case once I got into it.

"The House of Morgan" is much more than the story of a banking house—it's the story of finance, the United States, and the world, over the past 150 years.

I can't hope to summarize a book of such monumental scope over the course of this review, so instead I'll offer some snapshots.

Did you know that the bankers of yore worked four-hour days and took three months of vacation a year? Instead of the mad rush of 100-hour work weeks and exhaustion-induced suicides commonplace over the past thirty or forty years in finance, banking used to be largely a leisurely and respectable field.

John Pierpont Morgan was actually third in a line of financiers laying the foundation for the J. P. Morgan. The first was British-American banker George Peabody. The second was Pierpont's father, Junius Spencer Morgan. Pierpont was essentially third-generation, so he had a significant head start and a lot of inherited privilege and wealth that made his venture possible! J. P. "Jack" Morgan Jr. was Pierpont's son, and oversaw the pinnacle of Morgan eminence.

J. P. Morgan & Co. was founded in 1971 and died in 1935 with the implementation of Glass-Steagall, which split commercial and "investment" banking. After that, remnants of the Morgan empire remained, but you can't really call them J. P Morgan & Co.

One of the most fascinating stories in the book is the parallel and eventually divergent careers of Tom Lamont (financier to Mussolini and enabler of WWII) and Hjalmar Schacht (German financier, and part of the resistance against Hitler). Basically it came down to the question of is there a point when keeping a friendship easygoing needs to be sidelined to uphold a certain set of ethics or values. Lamont said no when Hjalmar said yes.

Another fascinating fact: pretty much every government defaulted on their debt at some point during the timeline covered in the book; not just "developing" countries like Brazil, but also countries like Japan and Germany. Investors today seem to think of bonds as safe, but in the historical perspective, they don't look that safe...

The book becomes a little jumbled after the split of the bank, as there’s no longer one coherent storyline. Also, there isn’t really any analysis given at the end of the book.

Overall, I found the book fascinating, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the financial history of the United States. ( )
  willszal | May 5, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Can a bank actually be heroic? Ron Chernow suggests as much in his exhaustive history of J.P. Morgan and its instrumental role in the development of the industrial Western economy from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th.
added by bongiovi | editWall Street Journal (Jan 16, 2010)
 
As a portrait of finance, politics and the world of avarice and ambition on Wall Street, the book has the movement and tension of an epic novel. It is, quite simply, a tour de force.
 
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It is necessarily a part of the business of a banker to profess a conventional respectability which is more than human. Life-long practices of this kind make them the most romantic and least realistic of men.--John Maynard Keynes
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For Valerie and Israel and Ruth
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Winner of the National Book Award and now considered a classic, The House of Morgan is the most ambitious history ever written about an American banking dynasty. Acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal as "brilliantly researched and written," the book tells the rich, panoramic story of four generations of Morgans and the powerful, secretive firms they spawned. It is the definitive account of the rise of the modern financial world. A gripping history of banking and the booms and busts that shaped the world on both sides of the Atlantic, The House of Morgan traces the trajectory of the J. P. Morgan empire from its obscure beginnings in Victorian London to the crash of 1987. Ron Chernow paints a fascinating portrait of the private saga of the Morgans and the rarefied world of the American and British elite in which they moved. Based on extensive interviews and access to the family and business archives, The House of Morgan is an investigative masterpiece, a compelling account of a remarkable institution and the men who ran it, and an essential book for understanding the money and power behind the major historical events of the last 150 years.

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