THE DU PONTS: Portrait of a Dynasty by Marc Duke

THE DU PONTS: Portrait of a Dynasty

Email this review


The name is familiar, but otherwise this family sage could almost be historical fiction, not only because author Duke presumes to read the du Punts' minds but, more important, because he ignores what they represent. A rambling reference, as of 1889, to E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. as ""the largest gunpowder and explosive company in the world"" only points up the pancity of historical underpinning; in the context of the book it comes as a surprise, like the unexpected success of a friend. Concomitantly, critical issues such as monopoly control are reduced to the level of gossip. The du Ponts, however, do come across as a peculiarly endowed lot. Founding father Pierre Samuel du Point de Nemours was a watchmaker's apprentice who became a liberal economist and government official, raised himself to the lessor nobility, hobnobbed with Talleyrand, and had the ear of Jefferson. When his dream of planting a colony in America failed, the family fortunes were retrieved by second son Éleuthère IrÉnÉ who had learned to make gunpowder from Lavoisier. E. I.'s son Alfred, next to run the mills along the Brandywine, shared his father's taste for gunpowder and his concern for the workers; a succession of fatal explosions broke his spirit at an early age. Thereafter brother Henry the Red reigned as the family tyrant; Lammot, son of Alfred, bluffed England out of vital saltpeter during the Civil War; another Alfred, nephew of Lammot, Introduced smokeless powder; cousin Coleman eliminated the competition; Lammot's son Pierre moved to assume control. . . and the du Pont family, already scandalridden, disintegrated in feuds and lawsuits, whereupon--c. 1919--the book effectively ends. Unconstrained, however unserious.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1976
Publisher: Saturday Review/Dutton