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An American Banking Dynasty And The Rise Of Modern Finance
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A brilliant, generation-spanning history of the Morgan banking empire, which offers a wealth of social and political as well as economic perspectives. Whereas most annalists leave off with the 1913 death of John Pierpont, Chernow (a former staff member at the Twentieth Century Fund) delivers a start-to-present chronicle, tracing the Morgan dynasty from the mid-19th century--when founding father Junius Spencer left New England to assume control of a London-based merchant bank--through 1987's traumatic stock-market break. To a significant extent, moreover, the narrative lives up to the subtitle's promise to track the development of latter-day finance. The House of Morgan, Chernow shows, spawned consequential enterprises on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the years, however, legislation (notably, the Glass-Steagall Act), wars, and other factors severed the ties that once bound them. Together or on their own, Morgan firms have been involved in remarkable ventures, escapades, and scandals. To illustrate, Chernow recounts how Pierpont organized major industrial corporations like AT&T, GE, and US Steel, also engineering celebrated "rescues" of the US Treasury in 1895 and 1907. His successors financed the Allies during WW I and then survived Wall Street's 1929 Crash. Between the wars, the author reveals, Morgan partners (in addition to more conventional clients) treated with Japanese militarists, Nazi bankers, Mexican dictators, and Italian fascists. With relationships an increasingly less important factor after WW II, Chernow documents how Morgan entities shifted gears to compete for business in an era marked by negotiated commissions, shelf registrations, and violent swings in interest rates. By way of example, he shows how Morgan Stanley, once an above-the-battle investment bank, pioneered hostile takeovers. Its UK counterpart, Morgan Grenfell, followed suit, only to come a cropper in a bid-rigging scheme for Guiness. In the meantime, Morgan Guaranty succumbed to the lure of seemingly easy money from LDC loans and M&A work. Chernow captures and records investment and commercial banking's fitful evolution from a time when institutions relied more on personal character and credit than on collateral to an era of casino capitalism in which tradition plays no part to speak of. He does so in lively, definitive fashion that could make his exhaustively documented account the standard reference for specialists as well as lay readers. The lengthy (771-page) text has over 80 photographs (not seen).
Pub Date: March 20th, 1990
ISBN: 0802144659
Page count: 1165pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1990


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