An intriguing exploration of the life of an Augsburg moneylender as a prototypical capitalist in the modern mold.
A former journalist (Wall Street Journal Berlin and London bureau chief), now a New York securities analyst, Steinmetz makes a convincing case for the value of studying enigmatic banker Jacob Fugger (1459-1525), who persuaded the pope to lift the ongoing ban on usury, among other acts that proved galvanizing in the Renaissance era. As the shrewd moneylender to the up-and-coming Habsburg emperor, Maximilian (“the man who, with Fugger’s help, would take the Habsburgs to greatness”), Fugger learned early on the value of making connections with those in power, thanks to indoctrination in his family’s textile business in Augsburg, followed by apprenticeship in the trading houses of Venice. Muscling his way to a monopoly in the silver mining business in the alpine town of Schwaz, then in the Hungarian copper belt, Fugger became the go-to lender for the massive sums required to raise armies and wage war—not just for Maximilian, but for the Portuguese, who traded pepper for Fugger’s metal. Though contemporaries excoriated Fugger as a “profiteer, a monopolist and a Jew,” Steinmetz believes he acted out of the “radical” belief that one did not have to be born noble to be superior. On the contrary, intelligence, hard work, and constant effort made one successful in life, as he amply demonstrated. Eventually, these qualities were the ones he valued the most in the nephews he selected to succeed him. A devout Catholic and severe critic of the restive Lutherans, Fugger served seven popes, lobbied Pope Leo X successfully to lift the ban on what was considered usury, “midwifed” the famous St. Peter’s indulgence that spurred Martin Luther to pen his 95 Theses, and helped bankroll the crushing of the German Peasants’ War—and still managed to die solvent.
A straightforward, engaging look at this “German Rockefeller.”