Sprawling tale of the fortunes and misfortunes of the Bronfman family, who transformed themselves from bootleggers to billionaires in a single generation.
Samuel Bronfman was an infant when his Russian-Jewish family emigrated to Canada in 1889. With the help of the Prohibition Act of 1920, within two years of its 1933 repeal, the Bronfmans had amassed an astonishing fortune, worth billions in today’s dollars. Mr. Sam, as he was widely known, had a head for business, a refined taste for spirits, a heart quick to anger and a ruthless need for control that would lead him to consolidate absolute power over his siblings in the House of Seagram. But a lifelong yearning to escape the taint of his bootlegger past would be forever frustrated, in part by the anti-Semitism of the era’s polite Canadian society. His son Edgar would gain the respectability his father long sought, as president of the World Jewish Congress. Edgar’s son and heir, Edgar Jr., eventually lost, via a series of spectacular strategic disasters while jockeying with the big players of Wall Street, the family’s ownership of the business his grandfather created and his father nurtured. Former Economist editor Faith (Blaze, 2000, etc.) is as fascinated by the minutiae of the distilling industry as he is by high-stakes financial gamesmanship. Readers who do not share his passion for the intricacies of straight whiskey versus blends, or for the role of EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization) in evaluating corporate profitability may find his narrative to be at times hopelessly leaden with incidental trivia.
A potentially lively human-interest story of three generations of very rich, largely unpleasant men is marred by content and style better suited to a trade publication than something seeking a consumer audience.