MORGAN by Jean Strouse


American Financier
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A superbly researched, well-written biography of a great—and, in the author’s view, somewhat misrepresented—figure in American history. J. Pierpont Morgan’s (1837—1913) every touch, it seemed, yielded pure gold. Some of his contemporaries admired his skill at making money, whereas most others despised him. Bancroft Prize-winning biographer Strouse (Alice James, 1980) writes that their disdain, fueled by populist and progressive views, has colored the historical take on Morgan such that he’s seen “as an icon of capitalist greed”—as mere robber baron and plutocrat. She paints a far more complex portrait of someone who, she argues, deserves to be rated as the chief architect of American industrial democracy. At his death, Morgan was the world’s most prominent banker; he—d overseen the economic restructuring of America from a debtor nation into self-sufficiency; he built railroads, engineered the mergers of huge corporations (to form, for instance, US Steel), and surrounded himself with rare works of art and literature, now housed in some of the nation’s leading museums and libraries. He accomplished all this, says Strouse, with a forceful intellect and a strong character—but also by taking any number of ethical shortcuts: He amassed an early fortune, for example, through profiteering in the Civil War. The author recognizes that Morgan’s critics, then as now, had reason to resent the man; after all, he controlled a huge share of the international economy and did much to break unions and thwart the ambitions of workers’ organizations. He showed little regard for “class conflicts and social problems,” and evidently believed that “his financial expertise conferred political prerogatives, and that his larger concerns took precedence over the interests of the people who opposed him.” Still, Strouse gives us an eminently human version of Morgan as a man guided always by profit but not without a sense of of social responsibility, a figure who, for good or ill, contributed in many ways to the structure of the modern world. Especially at a time when American wealth and monopoly again reign, this life of a notable dollar-diplomat is most welcome. (b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-50166-5
Page count: 800pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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