Books by Ron Chernow

GRANT by Ron Chernow
Released: Oct. 10, 2017

"At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers will regret the experience. For those seeking a shorter treatment, turn to Josiah Bunting's Ulysses S. Grant (2004)."
A massive biography of the Civil War general and president, who "was the single most important figure behind Reconstruction." Read full book review >
Released: April 26, 2004

"Literate and full of engaging historical asides. By far the best of the many lives of Hamilton now in print, and a model of the biographer's art."
A splendid life of an enlightened reactionary and forgotten Founding Father. Read full book review >
TITAN by Ron Chernow
Released: May 1, 1998

The archetypal American institution-builder—in industry, philanthropy, and the family dynasty bearing his name—is etched with uncommon objectivity and literary grace by National Book Award—winning business historian Chernow (The Death of the Banker, 1997, etc.). "Silence, mystery, and evasion" perpetually enveloped the founder of the world's first great industrial trust, enabling him to crush rivals to his Standard Oil Co. The same cocoon presented daunting obstacles to earlier chroniclers of John D. Rockefeller Sr., both detractors (crusading muckraker Ida Tarbell) and supporters (Allan Nevins). Greater access to family archives, including a 1,700-page interview given by Rockefeller in retirement, enable Chernow to tear at this membrance of artifice and to offer as detailed, balanced, and psychologically insightful a portrait of the tycoon as we may ever have. Chernow traces Rockefeller's contradictory impulses toward greed and godliness to his parents. His father, who abandoned the family for years at a time to ply rustic innocents with patent medicines, left him with shameful secrets (e.g., bigamy and a rape indictment) and acquisitive instincts; his mother instilled a devotion to the Baptist faith that manifested itself in philanthropy. Chernow is careful to deny some of the hoariest myths of Rockefeller demonology, to detail his managerial gifts, and to underscore his crimes (his alliance with railroads in the shell organization the South Improvement Company involved rebates, insider intelligence, and "grand-scale collusion such as American industry had never witnessed"). Above all, he offers a figure abounding in paradox: the prototypical monopolist who sought to eliminate what he saw as wasteful competition, only to spark an antitrust suit that forced the dissolution of his company; a homeopathy advocate who funded medical research that marginalized this form of medicine; and a tightly wound, self-possessed, despised businessman who in his 40-year retirement displayed a joy in play and a talent for charming reporters, winning the affection of the world. Business biography on a grand scale. Read full book review >
Released: July 16, 1997

Three ad rem essays from National Book Award winner Chernow on the convulsive shift in the balance of monetary power (from commercial, investment, and merchant bankers to financial conglomerates) that has marked 20th-century capitalism. Drawing on research he did for The Warburgs (1993) and The House of Morgan (1990), Chernow offers an anecdotal primer on the factors that put paid to the pivotal, frequently dictatorial role once played by bankers in allocating capital throughout Europe and North America. In addressing, even mourning, the eclipse of the banking trade, he recalls the accomplishments of larger-than-life financiers (in particular, John Pierpont Morgan and Siegmund Warburg) who granted the credit required to open the American West, underwrote transcontinental railroads, masterminded acquisition campaigns decades before merger mania became a byword on Wall Street, guided fearful nations through market panics, and otherwise left their mark on the New World and Old. The author recounts how passage of the Glass-Steagall Act by Congress during the Great Depression brought the disruptive rigors of competition to the clubby, relationship-oriented world of banking. Chernow also documents the advances in communications technology and regulatory policy that put investment intelligence within reach of all comers; these latter developments led directly to the profusion of mutual funds, which manage the billions of dollars anted up by individual investors. While today's institutional avatars may be a more cautious, risk-averse breed than their colorful predecessors, that may be in part, the author suggests, because they are subject to the pitiless collective judgments of a global marketplace that puts precious little premium on living by one's wits. If Chernow provides no breakthrough perspectives to arrest the attention of professionals, he delivers a sound, accessible account of the forces shaping capital, credit, currency, and securities markets on the eve of a new millennium. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

From the National Book Award-winning author of The House of Morgan (1990): an engrossing history of the Hamburg banking family that explores the love/hate relationship between Germany and its native-born Jews with as much interest as it recounts the lives of those who made Warburg a name to be reckoned with on both sides of the Atlantic. Drawing on unrestricted access to members of the extended family and their voluminous archives, Chernow offers a start-to- present chronicle. Tracing the line from the mid-16th century, he reviews how canon and secular law shunted the era's Jews into trade or moneylending. By 1773, however, the patriarch's descendants were able to settle in the thriving port of Hamburg, where they put down deep roots and established themselves as world-class bankers. In the meantime, the family tree developed branches whose scions competed as vigorously among themselves as with outsiders. Tracking the varied fortunes of Warburgs through Bismarck's Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and beyond, Chernow documents how intermarriage with Our Crowd's Loebs and Schiffs enabled the Warburgs to make their mark on Wall Street as well as in Europe. A notable case in point was Paul M. Warburg, a driving force behind the FRB's 1913 creation. In like vein, WW II drove Siegmund Warburg to London, where he became a postwar power in The City. Other Warburgs distinguished themselves in the arts, philanthropy, and government service, as well as in business, mingling with the likes of Balfour, Einstein, Gershwin, von Papen, FDR, Kaiser Wilhelm II, et al. In an outcome that affords his panoramic narrative an affecting measure of unity, Chernow details the transaction whereby a latter-day generation reclaimed the merchant bank where their own story began. A lively, definitive, and thoughtful account of a clan whose star has waxed as that of its Rothschild rivals has waned. Read full book review >
Released: March 20, 1990

A brilliant, generation-spanning history of the Morgan banking empire, which offers a wealth of social and political as well as economic perspectives. Whereas most annalists leave off with the 1913 death of John Pierpont, Chernow (a former staff member at the Twentieth Century Fund) delivers a start-to-present chronicle, tracing the Morgan dynasty from the mid-19th century—when founding father Junius Spencer left New England to assume control of a London-based merchant bank—through 1987's traumatic stock-market break. To a significant extent, moreover, the narrative lives up to the subtitle's promise to track the development of latter-day finance. The House of Morgan, Chernow shows, spawned consequential enterprises on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the years, however, legislation (notably, the Glass-Steagall Act), wars, and other factors severed the ties that once bound them. Together or on their own, Morgan firms have been involved in remarkable ventures, escapades, and scandals. To illustrate, Chernow recounts how Pierpont organized major industrial corporations like AT&T, GE, and US Steel, also engineering celebrated "rescues" of the US Treasury in 1895 and 1907. His successors financed the Allies during WW I and then survived Wall Street's 1929 Crash. Between the wars, the author reveals, Morgan partners (in addition to more conventional clients) treated with Japanese militarists, Nazi bankers, Mexican dictators, and Italian fascists. With relationships an increasingly less important factor after WW II, Chernow documents how Morgan entities shifted gears to compete for business in an era marked by negotiated commissions, shelf registrations, and violent swings in interest rates. By way of example, he shows how Morgan Stanley, once an above-the-battle investment bank, pioneered hostile takeovers. Its UK counterpart, Morgan Grenfell, followed suit, only to come a cropper in a bid-rigging scheme for Guiness. In the meantime, Morgan Guaranty succumbed to the lure of seemingly easy money from LDC loans and M&A work. Chernow captures and records investment and commercial banking's fitful evolution from a time when institutions relied more on personal character and credit than on collateral to an era of casino capitalism in which tradition plays no part to speak of. He does so in lively, definitive fashion that could make his exhaustively documented account the standard reference for specialists as well as lay readers. The lengthy (771-page) text has over 80 photographs (not seen). Read full book review >