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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  9,065 ratings  ·  407 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 March 20th 1990)
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Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
In his first massive biographical tome, Ron Chernow definitely takes up an undertaking that proves daunting and yet highly interesting. Chernow sought to explore not only financial ties in America through the ages, but to explore a powerful financial, business, and political force that has lasted for more than a few decades. The Morgan name has been deeply ensconced in the American fabric (the international one as well) for well over a century, helping to steer world events and political ideals ...more
R.K. Gold
Oct 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was the first Chernow documentary I ever read and immediately fell in love with his style. He is the sort of historian who loads his books with so much information that it's impossible not to walk away more knowledgeable on the subject matter. He captures more in one chapter than some other biographies capture in an entire book.

What stands out most is that he not only saturates the book with information, but he also humanizes the characters. House of Morgan doesn't just give the chronologic
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Never before in the history of the world has there been such a powerful central control over finance, industrial production, credit, and wages as it is at this time vested in the Morgan group."
- Former Republican Chairman, quoted in Fortune, August 1933.


Ron Chernow's first financial biography/history is large It is 720 pages, plus notes/etc., and spans 1938 - 1989. It started off strong. Part I: The Baronial Age (1838-1913) is focused on the MEN, namely George Peabody, Junius Spencer Morgan, an
Roy Lotz
When I picked up this book, I assumed it was a biography of the two famous John Pierpont Morgans. But this is far more; indeed it is a true history of the Morgan bank, though admittedly with heavy emphasis on the biographies of the key figures. Given that this history spans over a century and includes a huge number of players, politics, and policies, the fact that Chernow could put out such a polished book in two and a half years is a testament to his skill as a writer and researcher.

The book is
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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

An exhausting 720 pages of text (followed by extensive notes, bibliography and index) covers all the houses of Morgan and the most significant Morgan men (Junius, Pierpont, and Jack) from even its pre-Morgan days, when George Peabody began the firm (before retiring he took on Junius Morgan) in the early 19th century, up to the 1987 crash. The London branch, Morgan Grenfell, is covered. The bank was, if not the most upper-crusty, certainly among the top white-shoe and Waspy banks. Jews were not w
Feb 15, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017
I love Ron Chernow... But even I have to admit that unless you are truly interested in banking and the history of each little piece of the House of Morgan, you only have to read the first half of this book which covers the crucial period 1830-1950.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
"It is not a large bank, as Wall Street banks go," said the New York Times. "A dozen other institutions have much larger resources. ... What really counts is not so much its money as its reputation and brains. ... It is not a mere bank; it is an institution."
I had heard of the House of Morgan and knew it was prestigious, but being on the west coast, and a person without wealth and no hopes of it, I didn't really know much more than that. This book presented itself to me on Goodreads, and I was c
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I can't believe I finally finished this 900-page tome about the Morgan banking dynasty. Also, who do I need to see my address to in order to get my Ph.D. for the history of early banks and economics? haha

I was a good book and I now know more than a lot of my professors about this time period.
Luisa Knight
I listened to about two-thirds of the book and got out of it as much as I wanted. It’s a very detailed history of some of the leading men in American banking, and a little of the English too. I thought the sections where it showcased the Morgan family to be interesting.

Cleanliness: a few swear words and mentions of affairs etc.

*Note: I listened to the audio version of this book so this Cleanliness Report may not be as thoroughly detailed as other reports are. Also, some inappropriate content ma
William Ramsay
Sep 06, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Oct 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Josh Friedlander
JPMorgan Just Posted the Best Year for Any U.S. Bank in History sez Bloomberg the other day. But why should you care? Well, a very short summary of this book is that you shouldn't, but back in the day, you should have - when the top-hatted, pipe-smoking mascot of capitalism sang I'm J.P. Morgan, my friends/ The wealthiest man on this earth in Ragtime.

For Chernow's epic, engaging bio opens in what he calls the "Baronial Age", the unregulated time when Whitneys, Fricks, Guggenheims, Carnegies and
Christopher St
I picked this book after reading Alexander Hamilton by Chernow (the best biography I have ever read). This is a historical masterpiece, and it earned a 4 from me instead of a 5 only because the subject matter was a little but less captivating to me than Hamilton's life, but this isn't totally fair to the author. The book is excruciatingly and wonderfully detailed. I can't imagine how a person writes more than one book like this in their lifetime, but chernow has done it.

The Morgan family has pla
Andrew Obrigewitsch
Jul 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, educational
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.
DeAnna Knippling
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Multiple generations and iterations of a single family managed to set the tone of international banking for over a hundred years. Then a downfall into 80s "banking" practices erodes all that they once held dear.

This book was published in 1990. One hopes for an updated version covering up to 2008 and beyond. A remarkable book on banking.
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Better than a text book highly educational and interesting.
Jul 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook, history
Whoa, this was not the longest book I've listened to, but it was the looongest book I've listened to. If you never thought banking was a dry topic before, this may make you think otherwise. And this is coming from the guy who enjoys this author. His book, Alexander Hamilton is one of my all-time favorites and I know I would have been extremely unlikely to have read/listened to it if I would have read/listened to this one first. So, I guess my takeaway is read Alexander Hamilton if you want to ex ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 28, 2015 rated it liked it
A book this size needs a mission or a thesis. Unfortunately such a construct - if existing - escaped my attention with the result that it became a long, monotonous tale of two-dimensiomal characters and a flurry of institutions morphing in and out of the Morgan name. Especially the period after Pierpoint Morgan became a death-march. Net assessment: Boring, without insight and definitely not worth the time.
David H.
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, audiobook
This was an absolutely fascinating book that I actually wish was longer and included post-1990 history (when it was written). Reading a history through a financial perspective was a bit eye-opening (the weakness of companies vs. the strength of banks early on, and the slow reversal of that power dynamic). The rise and fall of the gentleman banker turning into the rise of the aggressive hotshot traders & takeover artists was also fascinating (and rather disturbing). The arrogance of the Morgan fa ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, audible
I took me nearly a year of sporadic listening to finish this audiobook of approximately 35 hours. I enjoyed it throughout, although my favorite part was the one regarding Pierpont Morgan (the father of Jack Morgan).

In addition to covering the fascinating personalities of the Morgans, this book also gives a very good overview of the early days of merchant banking, the rise of brokerage houses and developments in international banking and capital. The author continues the history of Morgan Stanle
Dan Allosso
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oligarchy, history
Listening to the Audible unabridged version. Chernow might be accused of hagiography -- at the very least, he is much too ready to take the word of his subjects for what motivated their actions. I have no doubt Pierpont, Jack, and the Morgan partners considered themselves enlightened benefactors of humanity. However, Chernow doesn't provide me a compelling reason to agree with them. For comparison, read the descriptions of same events by, say, Ferdinand Lundberg. One thing this book excels at, t ...more
Mindaugas Mozūras
After all, the devil’s work was now sprinkled with holy water.

This is the second biography by Ron Chernow I've read. I've liked The House of Morgan, but I've also learned that I prefer biographies that follow a single or a couple of individuals. The House of Morgan follows the Morgan banks through their centuries-long history. It gives a broader historical overview of modern finance but doesn't go as deep. I missed that depth.

I will definitely read other biographies by Ron Chernow. I thought tha
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Composite story of the Morgan family, who started a bank that became a household name. At 812 pages, this is a very detailed story with meticulous research into the backgrounds of the family and their associates. There is so many facts and people that the book becomes overwhelming at times. I was surprised at how global this bank was even centuries ago. It is an interesting perspective of the Morgan family and the banking firm it created.
Jared Nelson
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intensely interesting at the beginning with a strong emphasis on individual personalities and unique world events. The Morgan’s are front and center of the narrative!

Stayed strong for the first 2/3 of the book...up through about the 1950s. The Morgan’s are now important-ish to the narrative but definitely not central.

After about the 1960s, the narrative changes more toward financial transactions with peripheral accounts of the Morgan’s and it began to disinterest me some. By the end, I was glad
Andrew Willis
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent read. The history is completely fascinating or at least up to the 1950s, then it gets a bit dry. Chernow eloquently documents the change from reputation-based lending in the mid-nineteenth century that is complete with a chivalrous bankers code but ends transitioning to the cut throat competition and customers-rule mentality of the 1980's. I'm not a finance guy but found it very much comprehensible. The section on the Diplomatic Age is very helpful to understanding the geopolitical sce ...more
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A large tome as only Chernow could write, and actually his first.
Here we have the story of the Morgan banking family through the late 19th century in the US and UK, starting JP's father, and ending with the various breakups and companies that became the off spring of this dynasty and the fade out of the family members by the 1960's.
A wonderful history of one of the great early financial empires.
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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

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“The panic was blamed on many factors—tight money, Roosevelt’s Gridiron Club speech attacking the “malefactors of great wealth,” and excessive speculation in copper, mining, and railroad stocks. The immediate weakness arose from the recklessness of the trust companies. In the early 1900s, national and most state-chartered banks couldn’t take trust accounts (wills, estates, and so on) but directed customers to trusts. Traditionally, these had been synonymous with safe investment. By 1907, however, they had exploited enough legal loopholes to become highly speculative. To draw money for risky ventures, they paid exorbitant interest rates, and trust executives operated like stock market plungers. They loaned out so much against stocks and bonds that by October 1907 as much as half the bank loans in New York were backed by securities as collateral—an extremely shaky base for the system. The trusts also didn’t keep the high cash reserves of commercial banks and were vulnerable to sudden runs.” 0 likes
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