A comprehensive but unfortunately arid biography of John Jacob Raskob (1879–1950), whom Farber (History/Temple Univ.; The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History, 2010, etc.) depicts as a progenitor of modern capitalism.
Solidly Catholic and small-town conservative, Raskob was as close to a Horatio Alger character as the Jazz Age might allow. He came to head first the DuPont chemical concern and then, in an early exercise in cross-fertilization (or at least cross-corporatization), General Motors. As Farber writes, he was a pioneer of the hostile takeover, the credit market and the application of big money to the political process. Moreover, he was a kind of Napoleon Hill/Dale Carnegie popularizer of business and money who urged ordinary Americans to invest in the stock market and thereby grow rich—advice that, fortunately, most Americans ignored, given that the crash and the Great Depression were just around the corner. That loss of credibility and the decline of the supermoneyed class in the age of the New Deal—and here Farber’s discussion makes the book timely—sent Raskob’s reputation into eclipse in his own time (though Sonora, Texas, is nowhere as bad as Farber makes it out to be). He has since been largely forgotten. Granted that Raskob did not have the worldly appetites or scandal-attracting abilities of fellow Catholic conservative Joseph Kennedy, this life seems a touch dutiful, carrying its subject’s stolid, businesslike manner into its pages. Still, no other book covers the same ground—a curious lacuna, given Raskob’s undeniable importance in economic history.
A thoroughly researched book that will appeal mostly to a scholarly rather than general audience.