House of Morgan

Chernow, Ron. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

You can tell straight away that Chernow is going to tell you a great story, especially when he uses words like “brouhaha” to describe an economic catastrophe. There is a sly humor about his writing. How can you not smirk just a little when he writes, “Gooch was being groomed for a career of permanent subordination and forelock tugging” (p 8)? Or says things like “incorrigible Wall Street rascals” (p30)? Yet, his story is vastly inclusive and extremely informative. He takes you back before a time when each state has its own banking system and debts could be settled any which way. We watch the growth of international finance and step into a “wealth” of biographical portraits, if you excuse the pun (since we are talking about banking). I loved the little details; for example, the Morgans were the first private residential household to have electrical lighting in New York and a woman named Belle Greene was Pierpont’s “saucy librarian.” My one complaint – the book is massive. That’s because the tale is massive. Chernow needs every page to tell the story.

As an aside: I love it when my reading converges. In House of Morgan Chernow mentions Dwight Morrow’s daughter, Elizabeth; how she couldn’t resist a comment about Pierpont Morgan’s legendary nose. Because I have been reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s diaries I know that Dwight is her brother and he named his daughter after a sister who passed away after a bout with pneumonia. If I hadn’t been reading Lindbergh the names Dwight and Elizabeth Morrow would have meant nothing to me.

Reason read: April is National Banking Month. And speaking of money, it’s also tax month…

Author fact: Chernow holds degrees from Yale and Cambridge.

Book trivia: Chernow won the National Book Award in 1990 for House of Morgan, his first book!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Founding Fathers” (p 92). Yeah, yeah. I know. House of Morgan is not about a founding father, per se. Pearl mentions House of Morgan as a suggestion if you liked Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton.

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