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The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  2,007 ratings  ·  97 reviews
The winner of the National Book Award and now considered a classic, The House of Morgan is the most ambitious history ever written about an American banking dynasty. Acclaimed by The Wall Street Journal as "brilliantly researched and written," the book tells the rich, panoramic story of four generations of Morgans and the powerful, secretive firms they spawned. It is the d ...more
Paperback, 812 pages
Published September 20th 2001 by Grove Press (first published January 1st 1990)
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Matthew
6 May 2010: Phew! Finally finished this book. Overall comment: Unique and informative financial history, but rather too many threads to keep track of, so the writing loses momentum.

In contrast to other reviews, I found Part III on 1948 to 1989 the most interesting. There are so many nuggets of info here that help chart the evolution of banks from 1960-90, and a lot of the issues continue to echo today -- banks trading against clients, too big to fail, capital shortfalls, etc. Above all, it seems
...more
Suzanne
For those of you who aren’t familiar with my background, I possess college degrees in both Political Science and Finance. I am fascinated with the subjects of history and economics. So, when I started reading House of Morgan, I quickly realized that the book in my hands was the culmination of all my favorite subjects put together. Ron Chernow, already on my radar as a foremost biographer, was apparently in charge of financial policy studies for a public policy foundation during the 1980′s. With ...more
William Ramsay
This is a very long book that suffers from two problems. First it is too long and drags with repetition toward the end. And, two, it was written in 1989, which means it covers the exuberance of the 'new' Wall Street banking but misses the disaster of the dot com bubble and especially the the crash of 2007, which shows that his exuberance was totally misplaced. Also Chernow has a tendency to adulate the rich which often ignores the fact that they often gain at others losses. The best part of the ...more
ranjit mathoda
a bit boring in parts, and it misunderstands some significant financial events, but a pretty good history of the American financial world for a large chunk of time through the lens of the Morgan companies
Marks54
I spent a good deal of spare time in the early 1990s reading biographies of plutocrats, especially those in the "guilded age" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is the first of the series that I recall reading. It is a family history of the Morgans, running from the patriarch Junius Morgan, who was Pierpont's father and the founded of the dynasty. The major portion of the book, of course, concerns J.P. Morgan or "Pierpont", who was a controlling figure in world finance at this time ...more
Alan
Ron Chernow is one of the very best historians of our time. But The House of Morgan is not his finest work.

The research is there—-exhaustive as it always is with Chernow’s financial histories. The problem is that he, himself, seems to run out of enthusiasm for his subject. Two-thirds the way through it, after having chronicled more than 180 years of the family and its multifarious banking manifestations, his presentation begins to show an attitude of “Geesh, let’s get this thing over with.” His
...more
Ray Mccue
I found The House of Morgan to be great from the start. Ron Chernow really succeeded in taking complex movements and trends of the 19th and early 20th centuries and compacting them down to a length that I found accessible; often he captured the essence of those movements using a single, captivating anecdote, the best of which were as hilarious as they were informative.

The book would merit five stars except for the fact that, once Jack Morgan leaves the picture, the story seems to break down and
...more
Robert
Would you like to know how the world really works? Pick up your skirt, grab your balls, and read this book!

Somewhat of a beast, and certainly not light reading. The title and stated subject of this book is misleading. It is not just about a bank. It is the history of the modern world and how finance made it all happen. At the heart of it all was a small but powerful bank, powered by Ivy-league elites and men who pulled themselves up from meager origins alike. This is how the world we know it was
...more
Arminius
Ron Chernow writes with such well thought out detail that it seems he never misses anything.“The House of Morgan” won a National Book Award and describes a powerful American family. It is a very detailed book, which is his style, that describes how banking became big in America and how the Morgan’s became more powerful than the Rothschild banking dynasty. If you ever read the great book “Creature from Jeckyll Island” and followed the author’s reasoning for not needing a Federal Reserve Bank then ...more
Muriel Fang
I like the long time span of this book. It covers the history of J.P.Morgan & Co, starting from the second tier London merchant bank that George Peabody built in the first half of 19th century. Peabody invited Junius S Morgan as heir to manage the bank, which started the long development we now known as House of Morgan. The book covers at least four generations of 'Morgan's in banking: Junius Spencer --> John Pierpont --> J.P. 'Jack' Junior --> {Junius Spencer III, Henry Sturgis --> ...more
Don Weidinger
an American banking dynasty and the rise of Morgan by Ron Chernow: once poor can’t forget poverty, 5 states defaulted 1840, Julius Pierpont dozens cigars a day, saved NYC 4 times from default, panics every 10 years, 20 letter bombs 1919 cart bomb 38 killed Wall St, Japan earthquake of 23 100K, why loan Germany, Lindbergh Mexican Rev, other world markets peaked in 26-27-28, 6K margin accounts only 10% down Black Thursday Tragic Tuesday, too much prosperity Keynes said thriftiness won’t help, Hoov ...more
Tushar
The book is a stunner, especially for those who are fond of 20th century history. Wonderfully divided into 3 ages, the first age is slow and has some excellent extracts, specially the one in which the Morgan Founder tries to save 1 pound by waiting for another bus. The diplomatic age sets the book apart and is awesome. Amazing read, you will meet all famous and infamous people of the 20th century in this book. Something I strongly recommend for anyone. The best biography I have ever read. $25 we ...more
Sebastien
Excellent book. Highly recommended. Post WWII history of the banks wasn't quite as interesting, but I liked how Chernow wrapped things up. Was quite prescient in foreseeing some of the problems we would face with the banks today, especially the problem of over-leveraging and the banks continuing to take riskier and riskier bets with the creation of fancier and fancier financial products that hid the true risk from the public and purchasers of those financial products...
David Wrubel
US Financial History is a passion of mine, and this book is a must read if you want to understand how we got where we were, and even where we are today in 2009. BIG book, but so is the subject, and Chernow is able to write this and his other biographies with a novelist's eye for detail, context, story, and plot. You have to be somewhat interested in the topics, but it is not at all dry or boring.
Sam
The middle of the road grade for this review has less to do with the execution of the book and more with how interesting it turned out to be. It appears to be very well researched and an extensive, very detailed look at the House of Morgan. The promise of the title is delivered, as effectively tracing the Morgan Dynasty does give you an interesting look at how modern finance was created, as well as its various ebbs and flows throughout history. For those interested in the 2008 Credit Crisis, thi ...more
John
I picked up this book after reading a bio of Carnegie, a JP Morgan contemporary, which I found excellent. I was also intrigued because the words deflation and debt are rearing their heads, again, and I thought here was a book to get both a good history lesson as well as an understanding of the evolution of the bond markets. It did that well. As a bio, as with Carnegie, one gains a bit of sympathy for these barrons of industry and finance, but the Morgans and the House's partners, with their bank ...more
Adam McNamara
The meteoric rise of the JP Morgan banking dynasty is a fascinating story.

In the late 1800s, the US financial system was in its infancy. Merchant banking was relationship oriented, with bankers extending credit to worthy companies based on character. "The first thing is character.... a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom."

At the turn of the century, US railroads were expanding rapidly, many using funds borrowed from merchant banks like the House of Morg
...more
Cindie
The history of finance has never been something I’ve gravitated towards, but thinking upon it further, I thought “what could be more interesting than the cutthroat world of old Wall Street?”

As it turns out, old Wall Street wasn’t particularly cutthroat. As Ron Chernow explains while he touches upon the role of the first Pierpont Morgan, in the early days (we’re talking late 1800s to pre-WWI), banks held most of the power over businesses and conducted themselves by adhering to gentlemen’s agreeme
...more
A.J. Howard
I've always felt that I missed the day in class where the basics of money are taught. I've always felt that I'm missing some fundamental facts about economics and finance ever since I was in high school reading the news or a history book. Maybe it's because of the fact that I don't like thinking about money, as evidenced by my history of fluctuations between black and red in my bank account. I've tried to remedy this in various ways, I'll force myself to read the seemingly non-stimulating busine ...more
Mark
I haven't finished this book yet, but I have gotten far enough (up to WWII) to see its value in exposing how the American populace is being gamed by socialists/monopolists/technocrats/bankers. See this frank admission from the President, as an example.

It seems anomalous that America's most famous financier was a sworn foe of free markets. Yet it followed logically from the anarchy of late nineteenth-century railroads, with their rate wars, blackmail lines [Note: I think the comma between blackma
...more
Andreas Novio
Cant help but comparing this book with Money and Power, which chronicles the rise of Goldman Sachs. The latter is more intimate, giving blow by blow account of succession issues and power struggles within the firm thru the generations. This book, on the other hand, did that in the first half but lost track when the last Morgan, Harry, disappeared from the scene and the three houses: Morgan Guaranty, Morgan Stanley, Morgan Grenfell created their own histories. It is just too much to cover.

Having
...more
Julieann Wielga

this is the third book I have read by Ron Chernow.(Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.) He is with a doubt by favorite biographers of influential white men.(As opposed to Issacson or Ellis or the guy who wrote John Adams.) The New York Review of books said that he is exceptional in the world of present day biographers because his sources are popular as well as academic. I read this, not because, I was interested in the House of Morgan, but because I am clueless about banking, stockmarkets
...more
Justin
The House of Morgan is an stand-out history of modern finance, told as the story of one of America’s great banking families. It tells the story of the shift of the epicenter of global finance from London to New York City and should serve as a reminder to we Americans that that epicenter is not fixed and can shift again.

Morgan was a powerful man. During the 1907 Panic he put NYC’s bankers in a room and forced them to save the city and its banking system. A decade later it would be the federal res
...more
Al
This book has sitting on my "unread" shelf, patiently waiting its turn, and I was finally motivated to pick it up by the current financial unpleasantness. It was somewhat reassuring to find that this country has been through times as bad, or worse, than what we are experiencing now. The difference is that ninety years ago, the world was smaller and relatively uncomplicated, and J. P. Morgan could just round up a few of his friends, each of whom would chip in a few million, and that would be the ...more
Lynne-marie
Sep 16, 2013 Lynne-marie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those with an interest in Modern Finance
I read The House of Morgan:An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance because I was naive about financial history and thought this might be a good place to start. It's author said, in his last paragraph: "The Morgan story is the story of modern finance itself. . . There will be more deals done and more fortunes made, but there will never be another barony like the House of Morgan." It is said of this book that Chernow wrote a slow book and indeed it took me a long time to read i ...more
John
A headline in the paper this morning reads: "Big, troubled banks have grown bigger." The fourth paragraph begins: "J.P. Morgan Chase, an amalgam of some of Wall Street's most storied institutions, now holds more than $1 of every $10 on deposit in this country."
So this 1990 book by Ron Chernow remains relevant today, and its ultimate lesson still rings true: Through crisis and scandal, booms and busts, the House of Morgan always survives and usually thrives.
"The House of Morgan" traces this legen
...more
James
So normally, you know me, I have a thing about how non-fiction books could probably be a pamphlet and there is no justification for a book.

Well, Chernow has done is research and has more than enough information to fill these 800+ pages.

But it turns out that in this case that is a double-edged sword. It felt like he was glossing over many details of his main text, and grossly overestimating the reader's knowledge of 19th Century history, economics, and banking. Granted, perhaps I wasn't the inten
...more
Andrew Obrigewitsch
This book was about how banking went from gentleman bankers of the 1800's to the pillaging corporate pirates of today, that buy up companies and sell off their assets to make millions for themselves while putting thousands out of work.

This book had a lot of really good date but could have been editing down to about half the size, as the average really will not be interested into the massive amount of details collected here.
Vickram Pradhan
Quotables:

Peabody Penny Carriage Anecdote:

(George Peabody was essentially the pioneer of American finance in Europe):
"Junius Morgan, who became Peabody's partner in 1854, later told how he found him one morning at the counting house looking sickly and rheumatic. The miserly Peabody didn't own a carriage, but came to work by public horsecar. "Mr. Peabody, with that cold you ought not to stick here," Morgan said. Taking hat and umbrella, Peabody agreed to go home. Twenty minutes later, on his way
...more
Mary Brodd
Generally illuminating. The pre-WWII information was easier to follow. The post-war material was more confusing, as the original institution broke itself into pieces (and the author tried to follow them all), but it was interesting/depressing to see how, as the regulations in the US/UK changed/disappeared, riskier and riskier behavior became the norm. This book stops in the late 80s, so nothing about our latest financial catastrophe.
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Ron Chernow was born in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating with honors from Yale College and Cambridge University with degrees in English Literature, he began a prolific career as a freelance journalist. Between 1973 and 1982, Chernow published over sixty articles in national publications, including numerous cover stories. In the mid-80s Chernow went to work at the Twentieth Century Fund ...more
More about Ron Chernow...
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