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 eI'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 business articles in The Economist or the The New York Times. I even took an macro-(or micro, I still get the two confused (see?))economics class in college that I didn't need to take. Also, every once in awhile I'll assign myself a homework assignment. Although I'll get the gist of what these things are about, I'd be hard pressed to identify anything that contributed to my fundamental understanding.
Ron Chernow's The House of Morgan is the latest example of my somewhat Quixotic self-improvement efforts. I should say first that the two-star rating is more of a function of my highly subjective reaction to the book than a reflection of the value of the book itself. Chernow is a talented historian, his Hamilton biography is my favorite of the recent glut of "Founding Fathers" reexaminations. I'll acknowledge that my own ignorance is what kept me from enjoying really The House of Morgan. Chernow, doesn't write in a overly technical manner, but there were too many "wait, what?" moments for me during the read. In other subjects too much exposition of basic concepts annoys me, but damn it, I needed hand-holding here.
For most of the book I could ignore any lack of fundamental understanding and let the narrative propel me. The best parts of The House of Morgan were the biographical sketches of the main figures of the Morgan banks, most notably the elder J.P. Morgan. The book also does a great job of showing how the bank was shaped by the times and vice versa. However, it becomes a different book when it shifts to the Post World War II era. This is mostly because Morgans became a radically different bank. The Morgan family mostly left the scene, it became much less personality-driven, and lost a great deal of its influence on world and U.S. politics. With this, the book became much of a financial history and the concepts discussed became harder to understand. While this may appeal to some, I found it very tedious and a chore to read. I don't like to judge a non-fiction book by it's ending, many history books lose steam, especially the one's that end close to the present. But this last section was close to 250 pages, over a third of the book.
Upon finishing, I'm glad I read this. My grasp of finance has been somewhat strengthened, however elementary it remains. Plus, it had been giving me the stink eye sitting on my bookshelf three years after I bought it. However, I can't really recommend more than the first 500 pages unless you're interested in, and have a decent intellectual grasp on, the subject. ...more