The Great Banking Dynasty Through Two Turbulent Centuries
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 A superficial, unfocused portrait of the Gallic Jewish banking dynasty. Drawing primarily on secondary sources and interviews with contemporary Rothschilds, Lottman (The Fall of Paris, 1992, etc.) traces the family fortunes from their origins in 18th-century Frankfurt, where they became ``bankers of kings...masters of Europe's most efficient transport network for the delivery of money and documents,'' to 20th-century France, where their bank was taken away from them twice, first in the '40s by the Nazis and then in the '80s by Franáois Mitterand's Socialists. The French Rothschilds' glory days were in the 19th century, when they financed the development of railroads, oil fields, and other nascent industries while remaining so closely tied to the French government that unofficial messages from the Rothschilds to family members or officials abroad often served as key means of diplomatic communication. Lottman notes that the family's financial preeminence slowly declined as conservative succeeding generations refused to get involved in the stock market and settled for managing their existing wealth, but he doesn't really examine the implications of this trend for the Rothschilds or the nation. The book suffers badly by comparison with Ron Chernow's recent histories, The House of Morgan and The Warburgs, which cogently traced modern banking's development through the story of a single family or institution; Lottman has neither Chernow's narrative strength nor his ability to capture individuals. Despite references to various family members' love for horse racing, wine bottling, and art collecting, the reader doesn't get a strong sense of any particular Rothschild's personality, with the possible exception of Guy (on whose memoirs the author relies heavily), who got the flagging dynasty back into the financial swing of things in the 1950s and '60s. Even those only mildly well informed about banking will find this a rehash of existing material, although Lottman's readable account is adequately informative for novices. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-517-59229-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995


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