The tale of two 17th- and 18th-century French families, a story that begins as a fairy tale and ends as a nightmare.
The families Magoulet and Chevrot tied their stars to the court of Louis XIV. The Magoulets were master embroiderers who also made leather cases to transport fragile treasures. The king’s wars, winter, famine, and poor economics eventually curtailed their work and livelihood, but Jacques Magoulet caught the eye of Louis’ finance minister and became the tax collector for the nation. One of DeJean’s (Romance Languages/Univ. of Pennsylvania; How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City, 2014, etc.) main narrative elements involves men who knew no rules. They wanted to be rich and noble, and lying and cheating become their primary methods. The Chevrots, however, took another approach. They chose to make money from money, eschewing conspicuous consumption and devoting all their energy to purchasing positions from the crown to advance their standing. The fastest way to amass money was to marry into it, and the Chevrots played the game well—except for the Romeo and Juliet of their families, who fell in love and vowed to marry. Louis appointed John Law, an Englishman, to control the largest economy in Europe, and he introduced paper money, dividends, the first ever investment fever, and, finally, the bursting bubble. Unfortunately, most of the book concerns economics, which is not the author’s forte, and the title is misleading. Money controlled the drive of these two families, and many of them were liars, forgers, imposters, and abusers. The narrative is intermittently interesting but difficult to follow as the stories jump around in time and between families. Times were difficult, but these two families drove themselves to ruin by pure, unadulterated greed.
Of interest for students of French history or the history of finance, if they can tie it all together.