MERCHANT ADVENTURER by Marquis James

MERCHANT ADVENTURER

The Story of W. R. Grace
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A long-lost literary treasure with an absorbing tale of its own. In the course of a distinguished career, James (d. 1955)- -winner of two Pulitzers, for The Raven (1930) and Andrew Jackson (1938)--developed the lucrative sideline of producing corporate histories. Commissioned in 1944 to write the life story of William Russell Grace (founder of the multinational enterprise that still bears his name), James completed a manuscript that Viking was set to publish in 1948. For reasons still not entirely clear, the project was aborted and the galleys consigned to a warehouse. They were unearthed years later by Lawrence A. Clayton, a University of Alabama professor researching a scholarly history of W.R. Grace & Co. in Latin America. The finder arranged for the text's publication and here has contributed an informative introduction on the belated appearance of an altogether engrossing period piece. Drawing on unrestricted access to corporate archives and personal papers, James offers a detailed account of an immensely successful ÇmigrÇ. A son of Ireland's impoverished gentry, Grace (1832-1904) decided early on to make his way across the water. Having amassed a small fortune as a supplier to the sailing vessels that exported Peru's vast guano deposits, after the Civil War he moved his base of operations and family to Manhattan. There, Grace became even wealthier, building a mercantile empire whose far-flung interests ranged from railroads and rubber plantations through global shipping lines. He also found time for politics, bucking Tammany Hall to win election as the city's first Roman Catholic mayor. More merchant prince than robber baron, Grace earned considerable influence in the highest councils of the Democratic Party as an advocate of good government and reform. A lively chronicle, doubly welcome because it rescues from undeserved obscurity one of the Gilded Age's more consequential players--as well as a master annalist's handiwork.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8420-2444-1
Page count: 368pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993