THE GUGGENHEIMS: An American Epic by John H. Davis


Email this review


With the least finesse and a spark of feeling, this might have been lox-with-champagne. At 55, Swiss-Jewish tailor Simon Guggenheim and his widowed fiancÉe, 41--denied permission, as poor Jews, to marry--leave with twelve of their children for America. Eldest son Meyer, on the road, quickly sees the wisdom of peddling his own wares and begins to manufacture stove polish and lye, and to import embroideries and lace. His profits he puts into mining stocks. Comes the lucky Leadville silver strike, and he rallies his seven sons--the cautious banker, the big organizer, the engineering whiz--to take over North American mining and smelting. Colorado, Mexico, Alaska--and on, boldly, to Africa and Chile and a 75 percent stake in the world's silver, copper, and lead by World War I. Then, says Davis, restitution: what had they done for the earth they had despoiled, ""for beauty, truth, justice,"" ""to add to the joys, or to alleviate the sufferings, of their fellow men?"" So each takes unto himself a cause: aeronautical research, support for scholars and artists, the dissemination of modern art, clinics and concerts. So, too, Solomon Guggenheim's attachment to Non-Objectivist oracle Baroness Hilla Rebay; the scandalous life of ""La Dogeressa,"" granddaughter Peggy Guggenheim (whose weak husbands, grasping lovers, and unhappy offspring occupy the most space) and the wounded pride of grandson Harold Loeb, caricatured as Robert Cohen in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Also lesser Guggenheims, their upright wives and compliant mistresses unto the present generation: maverick archaeologist Iris Love, prestige publisher Roger W. Straus, Jr., and--presiding over the imperial remains--hall-English Episcopalian Peter Lawson-Johnston. Over 600 pages of relentless gossip-column patter, oozing with innuendo, conjecture, disparagement, crude anti-capitalism, covert snobbery, and high piety. We must, says Davis, ""guard against glorifying or romanticizing a type like Meyer Guggenheim."" Epic tripe.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1978
Publisher: Morrow