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The Death of the Banker

The Decline and Fall of the Great Financial Dynasties and the Triumph of the Small Investor
Narrated by: Michael Kramer
Length: 4 hrs and 37 mins
4 out of 5 stars (598 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

With the same breadth of vision and narrative élan he brought to his monumental biographies of the great financiers, Ron Chernow examines the forces that made dynasties like the Morgans, the Warburgs, and the Rothschilds the financial arbiters of the early 20th century and then rendered them virtually obsolete by the century's end. As he traces the shifting balance of power among investors, borrowers, and bankers, Chernow evokes both the grand theater of capital and the personal dramas of its most fascinating protagonists. Here is Siegmund Warburg, who dropped a client in the heat of a takeover deal because the man wore monogrammed shirt cuffs, as well as the imperious J. P. Morgan, who, when faced with a federal antitrust suit, admonished Theodore Roosevelt to "send your man to my man and they can fix it up". And here are the men who usurped their power, from the go-getters of the 1920s to the masters of the universe of the 1980s. Glittering with perception and anecdote, The Death of the Banker is at once a panorama of 20th-century finance and a guide to the new era of giant mutual funds on Wall Street.

©1997 Ron Chernow (P)2017 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

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    2 out of 5 stars

Severely outdated

The "release date" of 04-25-17 had me erroneously believing this book had been updated. Nope. Kind of a lot has happened since 1997, including some of the most interesting things in the banking world, and many events that dramatically change the way much of the topics discussed in the book should be viewed. Several conclusions in the book are proven wrong by more recent events. So much has changed since 1997 that this book is pretty much irrelevant. There are a few good chapters on events that happened before the 1980s (like the discussion on J.P.Morgan).

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Good short read

Not as dense as the normal Ron Chernow works I'm accustomed to but displays more of the historian's humor; short and sweet remembrance of the evolution of the world of high finance and it's key players

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 04-27-17

Deep insights, wide comprehension, lively pace

I have read Mr Chernow's giant tomes The House of Morgan and The Warburgs. I liked them very much. But I like Mr Chernow better here, in this more squeezed format. In those huge books he had to labor to tell the whole story, which can be ponderous, versus here, where he can pluck out the really meaningful moments and toss them up with clever turns of phrase. The story can shed its ponderous elevator-music stretches, and sparkle. I am not one to love a movie merely because it has a romping pace to it: I require depth with my liveliness. And Mr Chernow delivers it. Here, despite my countless prior readings in this field (I've heard or read most anything in this non-fiction catalog with words like "banker," "Wall Street," or "money" in the title), the story (and let's be clear, the story principally of "high finance," versus the street-level "Main Street" stuff, though this moves toward the fore as the story goes along) snaps brilliantly into view, passage after passage. A new sheen appeared on the old characters and events. I bought a print version of this (1997-published) book, but was not enticed, flipping through it. Each passage seemed like a splinter, like a bit of a kaleidoscope turn, but I couldn't see any order. This audio version has set me straight on that. The narrator, to start, is a perfect fit. He sort of purrs in a dry amused voice that fits the wit and grace of this crackling-good prose. The writing is in a great articulate English that sadly may be fading. Meanwhile the actors, and their motives, and the picture large and small,all appear in clear relief and perspective. There is some conceptual background to help us filter the stories: it returns from time to time to remind of its theme of the dynamics and adventures of bankers in the three-cornered tug of war between capital sources, bankers allocating capital, and capital's consumers, but plunges back into the story in bold color and detail. I couldn't stop chuckling.
Now, about the aged nature of the book (20 years old now): it shows its age. But it bears this gracefully, handing me tools to understand the present.

43 of 48 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 10-24-18

Bankerdämmerung

"As we have seen repeatedly in our own day, any successful business that engenders a large surplus is, potentially, an embryonic bank."
- Ron Chernow, The Death of the Banker

A more accurate title might be "Death of Banking", or "The Death of Pimp Merchant Bankers", or perhaps ... "A Chronicle of an Almost Banking Death Foretold Far To0 Early" or "The Democratization of Money and the Rise of Mutual Funds". Interestingly, this book was published in 1997 right before banks enjoyed their CMO/securritization/post Glass–Steagall ressurrection. Everytime someone predicts banking/bankers are about to die, they get bailed-out, patched-up, mutates, and grows again. For this reason, this book hasn't aged well. It missed the biggest story about finance in the last 50 years (the Financial boom and bust of 2007/8).

The first 2/3 of the book is basically a lecture Chernow delivered in Toronto (the Barbara Frum Lecture sponsored by the University of Toronto History Department and the CBC). Chernow added two essays totalling about 45 pages on J.P. Morgan and the Warburgs. These are basically extended summaries of Chernow's earlier Banking Dynasty books: "House of Morgan" and "The Warburgs". Not included (because the book came later) was Chernow's third Banking Dynasty book on the Rockefeller family.

So, it is hard for me to like this as a book. It is a good, if out-dated, essay and summaries of 2/3 books Chernow's banking books I've recently read. I would recommend anyone interested in this topic to simply read Chernow's three banking books. But, if you have read everything else Chernow is published and you want to be a completist because you are kinda/sorta A.D.D., go ahead. You can read it in a couple hours. It is more conversational than his histories and you've heard most of the stories, quotes, and themes before.

Chernow writes primarily about banking families and American biographies:

Chernow's Banking Dynasties:
1. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. - ★★★★
2. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance - ★★★★
3. The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family - ★★★★

Chernow's American Political Biographies:
1. Alexander Hamilton - ★★★★★
2. Washington: A Life - ★★★★★
3. Grant - ★★★★★

Upon reviewing my reviews, I'm convinced Chernow does slightly better at writing histories of individuals rather than families; politics rather than finance. However, I should note, I've enjoyed ALL of his books and he's a master at his craft.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Big Picture? Got it. Details? Not So Much.

One of the great advantages of audiobooks is that they can get you through passages that would otherwise prompt you (or at least me) to quietly give up on the printed text. The tangle of rigging and navigation in the Aubrey-Maturin novels, for example. Or that excruciating catalogue of late medieval Parisian architecture in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But the financial terminology in The Death of the Banker is another matter.

I get the broad outlines of Chernow's thesis, and the handy bar graph he creates to illustrate it is so simple, even I can imagine it without the help of a picture on a page. But Chernow's familiarity with financial concepts leaves us (ok, me) panting to catch up. Without a helpful explanation--like those provided in his magnificent Hamilton bio--I can't tell a "securities market" from a "commercial paper market". Given time, I can noodle out what he means by "the financial allocation function", but by then, the story has moved on and I need to (once again) rewind.

Still, I get the overall concept: industries once tethered to their bankers have now been liberated by (and made beholden to) small investors like you and me. Chernow makes it clear that, like all triumphs, that of the small investor has its downsides, too. The obliteration, for example, of true "relationship banking", when men who knew and trusted each other whispered advice in paneled libraries. Yes, you'd have to be of a certain financial standing to enjoy that level of attention. But it's better than the faux-intimacy banks (along with most other brands) foist on us wholesale nowadays.

After the long introductory essay, "Tycoons", comes as a welcome change. Here Chernow presents two brief studies of J. Pierpont Morgan and the Warburg dynasty. As with philosophical and political ideas, I have a much easier time grasping financial principles if I can see them acted out in history. So, with all my shortcomings as an audience, I still managed to learn something.

Michael Kramer does a fine job with all of it. Like all good narrators, he sounds interested in what he's reading and wants to make it interesting for us. Alas, his efforts behind the mic are somewhat marred by a sibilance that the "Small Speakers" setting on my iPod (yes, I still use an iPod) almost succeeded in banishing.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Lacks Luster but very informative

Book was OK. dry winded at points but very informative about transitions in power based finance between bankers. I would recommend to anyone who finds value financial history books.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent book, very interesting and high level

I got this book after hearing Chernow's Alexander Hamilton. This was an interesting story about the history of the banking system. The narration was also excellent.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Not a book but lectures

This is three lectures put in book format. The last two seem tacked on to add length and mainly seem to be short summations of the author's two books on the subject: The Warburgs and The House of Morgan. There is a decent amount of overlap with the first lecture.

The meat is the first lecture and it starts well and is done well for a lecture. However, as a lecture, the people to whom it was addressed were also looking for insight on the "current" trends and situations and it starts to fall flat. It doesn't help that current is the mid to late '90s. If it had stopped before addressing the current situation it would have been a good overview and broad history, an excellent lecture but still not a book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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well crafted but morally murky

this is a well told story about the great high modern capitalists. but the author is a bit to enamored of his subjects. while fascinating studies these were after all the monsters who sucked the blood of the poor. antisemites exploiters corruptors. there is a weird sense of admiration in the tone of this book which is slightly nauseating. especially now in 2017 when one of the scions of these kinds of peiple is upending the world. moreover it attributes much more orderliness and monocausality to the development of our contemporaey financial world. we know especially in the light of 2007-08 that this is not true and actually it was never true.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Good performance, not engaging

The performance by Michael Kramer was very well done. I was very interested in the subject of the book however I just could not get in to it and keep my focus because of his writing style. Though I must say he does throw a lot of very interesting information at you throughout the book and in an overall short amount of time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful