In this groundbreaking new biography, based on more than 10,000 hitherto unavailable letters and diary entries, best-selling author Niall Ferguson returns to his roots as a financial historian to tell the story of Siegmund Warburg, an extraordinary man whose austere philosophy of finance offers much insight today.
A refugee from Hitler's Germany, Warburg rose to become the dominant figure in the postwar City of London and one of the architects of European financial integration. Seared by the near collapse and then "Aryanization" of his family's long-established bank in the 1930s, and then frustrated by the stagnation of its Wall Street sister, Kuhn Loeb, in the 1950s, Warburg resolved that his own firm of S. G. Warburg (founded in 1946) would be different. An obsessive perfectionist with an aversion to excessive risk, Warburg came to embody the ideals of the haute banque - high finance - always eschewing the fast buck in favor of gilt-edged advice. He was not only the master of the modern merger and founder of the eurobond; he was also a key behind-the-scenes adviser to governments in London, Tokyo, and Jerusalem - to his critics, a "financial Rasputin".
©2010 Niall Ferguson (P)2010 Tantor
"Ferguson has written a most engrossing and edifying tale of high finance.... Highly recommended." (Library Journal)
By "these topics" I mean mid-20th century Europe (including UK), the related financial history, merchant banking, and the actions and plight of German Jews in those settings. I not only have these interests in abundance, but also benefitted in having just finished "The Warburgs" by Ron Chernow. That book, which tells the saga of the whole sprawling family from the 1800s into the 1990s, across Europe and the USA, but in a less strictly finance-centric way, gave a perfect backdrop and introduction to the times and characters.
It was Siegmund I best related to, for better or worse, as I am a similarly dour, restrained intellectual type. Yet he came vividly alive in the crossing of boundaries, internationally and in banking business, and the bold creativity of his buildup of his own establishment, alongside the more staid doings of his continental and US relatives. He flowed across borders with the facility and liquidity of the namesake of one of his trading arms, Mercury (from whose name the word "commerce" also comes). (Digging further into this type of personality can be done in Jean Shinoda Bolen's "Gods in Everyman," relating to the Hermes-Mercury character.) And, fittingly, Siegmund could be rather ethically limber, for example, willing to deal in Germany postwar and with Germans some of his relatives considered objectionable. He was a very driven man, very limited in other departments of his life, as in his very disciplined marriage; he had to show the world and his doubting family members (in the rivalrous Hamburg branch of the family) his importance. And he did, aplenty: he was a great shaper of postwar finance on that side of the Atlantic. Author Niall Ferguson shows all this with a graceful precision, digging into deals and details at a level Mr. Chernow (for all the quality of his book) did not. Mr. Ferguson's bigger tomes are right at the sweet spot for my interests: he has precision and thoroughness delivered in that crackling English prose I so love. And the narrator is spot on for the job too: ideally British but shifting into convincing German accents to highlight other speakers' own words. Bravo!
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