Once upon a time, the Rothschilds were the wealthiest people on earth. In a thorough, diligent study, Ferguson (History/Oxford) completes his grand chronicle of the family that achieved history’s greatest economic hegemony (The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets, 1798-1848, 1998). Access to family records, hitherto unavailable, was facilitated by the English branch of the clan for this monumental authorized history. Ferguson makes their engrossing story an advanced seminar on the financial history of Europe. In their heyday, the Rothschilds practiced geopolitics on a grand scale. They arranged the tricky reparations following the Franco-Prussian conflict, were active in securing Suez for Victoria, and managed assets for the Vatican. Contrary to myth, they were generally pacifists. (War tended to disrupt markets as well as harm people)., “While others unified nations, the Rothschilds were quietly unifying Europe,” using railroads as a binding factor. They demolished social barriers erected against Jews, hobnobbing easily with aristocracy and royalty, dealing with the likes of Disraeli and Gladstone, Lloyd George and Cecil Rhodes, Napoleon III and Bismarck. They ultimately joined the nobility themselves, purchasing castles and art in prodigious quantities. By the turn of the last century and the advent of the fifth generation, however, there was a decline in the Rothschilds’ fortunes. They had neglected to establish a foothold in the New World. Power was dispersed among numerous, often effete, cousins. There were marriages outside the endogamous family, eventually even outside its religion. Some partners cashed out to go their own ways. Virulent anti-Semitism and two world wars left the family enterprises no more important than those of their numerous competitors. The text has a pronounced British accent, as the English house is given primacy. (Values are uniformly reported in pounds sterling). Not History for Dummies. Copious financial accounts are combined with political and social narrative to produce a formidable chronicle. It is an extraordinary tale of the unique commercial underwriters of European history, told with impressive scholarship.