The fabulous history of a legendary family, reviled by many, lauded by many others, and fascinating to all, is told again, this time with encyclopedic exactitude. British scholar Ferguson (History/Oxford) has done exhaustive research, drawing on musty archives worldwide, and he uses long extracts from Rothschild family correspondence never before publicly presented. A generation ago, Frederick Morton's bestselling romantic history of the family evolved into a Broadway musical. No such transformation is likely for this massive work. This telling is businesslike and straightforward, which somehow emphasizes the story's inherent extravagant romance. There are, to be sure, extended passages dealing with financial transactions together with charts detailing, for example, such arcana as the ""weekly closing prices of 3 percent consols, 1828-1832."" The scholarly analyses of old balance sheets and financial statements, however, give way to the complex story of how the founder and his five sons came to bestride the world of international finance, creating the modern government bond market, underwriting the advent of railroads (the hot stocks of their day), bankrolling geopolitics, commanding swift communication, and fathering the art of public relations. The brothers and their sons were the very models of modern merchant bankers, all the while stubbornly retaining their Judaism and marrying only within their endogamous clan. They dealt democratically with the likes of Wellington and Metternich, Disraeli and Heine, Balzac and Rossini. Ferguson's mighty book closes with a Rothschild entering Cambridge while another takes his seat as a member of Parliament without the hitherto required oath of Christian fealty. It covers the first quarter of a history that began two centuries ago in the fetid ghetto of Frankfurt. (A second volume, bringing the tale to 1997, is promised for next year. Scholar and nonacademic alike will be pleased, indeed, if it's like the current text.) The latest definitive work on the marvelous Rothschilds, cogent and strong.