• Inside Money

  • Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power
  • By: Zachary Karabell
  • Narrated by: Zachary Karabell
  • Length: 17 hrs and 16 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (141 ratings)

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Inside Money

By: Zachary Karabell
Narrated by: Zachary Karabell
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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping history of the legendary private investment firm Brown Brothers Harriman, exploring its central role in the story of American wealth and its rise to global power

Conspiracy theories have always swirled around Brown Brothers Harriman, and not without reason. Throughout the 19th century, when America was convulsed by a devastating financial panic essentially every 20 years, Brown Brothers quietly went from strength to strength, propping up the US financial system at crucial moments and catalyzing successive booms, from the cotton trade and the steamship to the railroad, while largely managing to avoid the unwelcome attention that plagued some of its competitors. By the turn of the 20th century, Brown Brothers was unquestionably at the heart of what was meant by an American Establishment. As America's reach extended beyond its shores, Brown Brothers worked hand-in-glove with the State Department, notably in Nicaragua in the early 20th century, where the firm essentially took over the country's economy. To the Brown family, the virtue of their dealings was a given; their form of muscular Protestantism, forged on the playing fields of Groton and Yale, was the acme of civilization, and it was their duty to import that civilization to the world. When, during the Great Depression, Brown Brothers ensured their strength by merging with Averell Harriman's investment bank to form Brown Brothers Harriman, the die was cast for the role the firm would play on the global stage during World War II and thereafter, as its partners served at the highest levels of government to shape the international system that defines the world to this day.

In Inside Money, acclaimed historian, commentator, and former financial executive Zachary Karabell offers the first full and frank look inside this institution against the backdrop of American history. Blessed with complete access to the company's archives, as well as a thrilling understanding of the larger forces at play, Karabell has created an X-ray of American power - financial, political, cultural - as it has evolved from the early 1800s to the present. Today, unlike many of its competitors, Brown Brothers Harriman remains a private partnership and a beacon of sustainable capitalism, having forgone the heady speculative upsides of the past 30 years but also having avoided any role in the devastating downsides. The firm is no longer in the command capsule of the American economy, but, arguably, that is to its credit. If its partners cleaved to any one adage over the generations, it is that a relentless pursuit of more can destroy more than it creates.

©2020 Zachary Karabell (P)2020 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“Powerful.... There is something quietly stirring in the tale of Alexander Brown, a Belfast linen merchant who emigrated to Baltimore in 1800, and together with his four sons became, first, a major linen importer, then a dealer in cotton, coffee, copper, iron and sugar, then a financier. Karabell, the author of several books on business and history, uses Brown Brothers as a lens into the nation’s growth.... His narrative of a firm that remained private and true to its credo is engaging and new.” (New York Times Book Review)  

“An engaging history.... Karabell, who has worked in banking himself, tells a brisk and muscular story.” (Robert Armstrong, The Financial Times)

“Karabell tells the tale with vigour, bringing the leading characters to life while locating their exploits in America’s broader economic and political history. He does not shy away from darker episodes, acknowledging the cotton traders’ dependence on the labour of slaves, and exposing the casual antisemitism of some partners.” (Reuters) 

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Brilliant, well researched & highly insightful

This book is what happens when a great author undertakes a great challenge & executes at the highest level possible. The narrator also did justice to this great book to make it a great audible listen.

If you're interested in a perfectly knitted history of Tycoons, US Government, Politics, Influence, Power & Wall Street. This is story telling at it's best (it's too good, we don't deserve it :-))

1 person found this helpful

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Awesome storytelling

I never thought I’d enjoy this book as much as I did. The amazing storytelling combined with rich, illustrious history of a unique firm that has outlasted its peers by several generations, interwoven with the building up of America kept me enthralled right through to the very end. Great job!

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Jam packed

I thought this book was excellent, jam packed with facts while being told in a very interesting manner. I look forward to reading other books by this author.

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Life changing awesomeness

A great story well told by the author,, nicely balancing flesh and blood storytelling with broad themes relevant to today.

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zacary's voice on this one is just great.

loved it. Discusses past 200 years of US history thru the lens of a staid bank. Makes one realize our troubles today are nothing compared to the immense strife this country has endured (civil war, ww1, ww2,...).

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A Master Class in Capital Markets History

Inside Money should be required reading for finance majors. Understanding the historical events and individuals who shaped the financial markets of the past is critical to comprehending modern capital markets. This book provides a master class in the development international finance from its earliest beginnings in the late eighteenth century thru the tumultuous mid-nineteenth century and into the transformative post World War II era. After 20 years in asset management, this is the most comprehensive and historically instructive book I’ve read.

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A sharp-penciled tracing of US history

Great skill is shown here in tracing big stories in US history and moving back and forth seamlessly to the related particulars, in the story of this family firm. The closer-to-the-ground stories illuminate the big picture, and vice versa. This family's doings were remarkable as braided into so many American iconic stories -- from innovation to politics. It checks all the boxes with my interest in finance and business history, alongside a good personal story. It held my interest well for the roughly 3-hour segments of walking-listening I do. The narrator enunciated well, but was a bit slack-casual in tone for my taste.

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more of an American history book

thought it was more of an American history book and not enough about it's workings as a Wall Street banking Titan especially later in its history.

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Not just money—it's everything

This book is well worth the read (by people of all economic perspectives)—it belies its title by providing (instead of investment advice as a casual observer might erroneously infer from a title such as Inside Money) valuable historical insights into the forces that shaped the United States and the world throughout the life of the US. Zachary Karabell covers not only businesses and banks, but also political and societal figures. These forces continue to be significant in our own time as they are fully at work in most everything that affects us today. Readers looking for thorough research and ample context will not be disappointed.

The author has been criticised for not being hard enough on Brown Brothers and other companies in the industrial North for their historical complicity in the use of enslaved persons for the production of cotton and other products involved in their businesses. However, it seems to me that Karabell has properly excoriated these companies for this complicity effectively and often throughout the book, and established a clear link between their wealth and slavery. I have yet to hear a convincing argument countering the observation that without historical slavery, capitalism as we know it today would not and could not exist—no need to bother with right wing nonsense about socialism.

Karabell displays great empathy with the moneyed class, mentioning Keynes only twice and merely tangentially. This provides a probably unintended explanation of why very wealthy persons apply their billions to support public officials who protect extreme libertarian policies—their amoral influence of public opinion toward politicians promoting oppressive, unbalanced, and otherwise destructive behaviors notwithstanding. The obscene and dangerous wealth inequality this creates is the natural result.

The author alludes to late capitalism, and credits Brown Brothers for their avoidance of the casino style practices that produced financial meltdowns. It's clear that the current system is not working for everyone, and the luck of even prudent companies such as Brown Brothers may be running out. For everyone's sake, let's do all we can to spread the tent to cover everyone—the alternative is we're all left in the rain, including Brown Brothers.

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A job well done is a reward in itself

This is an outstanding book. I learned quite a bit about the Brown family, money, investing, and the high-quality people associated with this firm throughout their 200+ years in existence.