THE MELLONS: The Chronicle of America's Richest Family by David E. Koskoff

THE MELLONS: The Chronicle of America's Richest Family

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Compared with Burton Hersh's effusions on the same subject (above), Koskoff's history of the Mellons has the great merit of being intelligible. It is also bland, devoid of context or focus or evidence of expertise, and only intermittently interesting. If you want to know how founding-father Thomas Mellon raised his sons to succeed in business; how, as investment-bankers, they bought into promising firms and took them over; how Andrew Mellon performed as Secretary of the Treasury; and how the third generation has enjoyed the fortune and abandoned the empire--well, Koskoff will tell you, but he won't (like a Josephson, a Myers, a Lundberg) make you itch to find out, or, when he's through, persuade you that you've learned anything of importance. One problem is that the Mellons were not entrepreneurs, and Koskoff is not sufficiently versed in business dealings or sufficiently vivid a writer to make their financial strategies come alive; and since he is generally accepting, his account has neither a critical edge nor the weight of thought. He is best--because most forthright--on ""the myth of the Mellon machine"" in Pennsylvania politics; generous, though frank, in assessing Treasury Secretary Mellon's controversial tax and other fiscal policies; and responsible, if unexciting, when dealing with the odd penchants of Mellon descendants. The one who emerges as worth attention is aristocrat/philanthropist/lung-patient Paul Mellon (""What this country needs is a good five-cent reverie""), founder of the Bollingen Foundation and, most recently, of the magisterial Yale Center for British Art. But, as Koskoff recognizes, the Mellons have long since ceased to act as a family, in business or out; if the value of rounding them up now is dubious, at least the job is done.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1978
Publisher: T. Y. Crowell