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Monday, August 5, 2013

“The House of Rothschild, Volume 2: The World's Banker, 1849–1999”, by Niall Ferguson

608 pages, Viking, ISBN13: 978-0670887941

Ferguson is not only publishing massive works of history at an astonishing rate; he is publishing well-written and controversial books. The Pity of War caused a stir by arguing that Britain bore the brunt of the blame for WWI. The completion of his two-volume history of the Rothschild banking empire begins at a high point of wealth, power and civic involvement, with Benjamin Disraeli a close family friend and Lionel Rothschild playing a leading role in gaining Jews the right to sit in Parliament. The book ends with the post-WWII rebuilding of the Rothschild's into a far-flung "mini-multinational". Drawing on thousands of letters from private Rothschild archives, Ferguson does a masterful job of showing how the Rothschild financial empire interacted with the governments of Europe. His account is peppered with countless refutations of previous interpretations and analyses. Yet the larger historical picture is often blurred as Ferguson furnishes blow-by-blow accounts of, for example, the French Rothschilds' ultimately successful decades-long battle against the Cr dit Mobilier. Readers will be left wanting more analysis of the larger sea change that consigned the Rothschild style of private banking to its current secondary status. And while he follows the senior partners in Britain and France (other houses, in Naples, Vienna and Frankfurt, either closed or simply receded from Ferguson's view), Ferguson sticks to their public deeds and roles, rarely venturing into the personal or the psychological. Still, this history is teeming with soundly argued expositions on the role of a singularly important family.

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