A MAN OF INFLUENCE: The Extraordinary Career of S. G. Warburg by Jacques Attali

A MAN OF INFLUENCE: The Extraordinary Career of S. G. Warburg

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An impressive financial history but dry biography of Siegmund Warburg, London's pre-eminent merchant banker in the post-WW II years (he died in 1982), this book has the added twist of being written by French President Mitterand's leading economic advisor. In making an idol of Siegmund, the grand finale to the Warburgs' 500-year reign as a Jewish banking family second only to the Rothschilds, Attali leaves him opaque as a man. A banker's banker who shunned publicity, Siegmund apprenticed under his uncle Max in Hamburg until leaving Germany in 1933. After the war, London remained the world's banking center despite England's decline, and Siegmund succeeded through his iron diligence, vast personal connections, and genius for innovation--he invented Euro-bonds, launched the first hostile takeover, etc. Attali deliberately chooses to make ""only the barest mention of [Siegmund's] personal life."" Fair enough--not every great life need be mini-series material--but what's lost here is an intimate look at a brilliant mind evolving. And Attali's account of modern economic turbulence can get so broad that sometimes Siegmund seems a mere visitor in his own biography. Still, Attali is of interest in his diversions; as a public figure and Socialist, he has his own agenda for this history--a pessimistic scolding of the Western governments for their selfish, inept steering of the global economy. But the book's better third occurs away from Siegmund's halo, with a Warburg family history that stretches back to the 16th century, and a strong account of the generation preceding Siegmund, led by Uncle Max and two brothers in the US. In France, the glamour wattage of Attali and the Warburgs made this book a bestseller; here it will more rightly be seen as a scholarly paean more perceptive about the money than the man.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1987
Publisher: Adler & Adler--dist. by Harper & Row