on March 25, 2004
In her book, "Morgan: American Financier" Jean Strouse has made a bold attempt to capture the essence of the man whose ideas shaped America's economy from the Civil War up through, at least, the New Deal. While the style of the writing of "Morgan: American Financier" may seem "dry", we have to remember that Ms. Strouse is not writing a biography of a colorful person like Nellie Bly or William Randolph Hearst. Still, she captures the tensions behind high-stake financing, plutocratic rivalries (Morgan vs. Andrew Carnegie, for example), and the ambitious attempt to rein in the wild speculation of railroad magnates. What makes the text of this book engaging for those not inclined to read these types of biographies, is that Strouse never lets you forget how much is at stake, not just in terms of dollars but in terms of the future of America's economic stability and growth.
For me, the chapters on JP Morgan's relationship with his father, Junius, and the internal struggles he had with traditional financing versus the role of financer as corporate director were at times touching and admirable. Specifically, the chapters entitled "Family Affairs and Professional Ethics" and "Fathers and Sons" were the most successful and enjoyable. Bottom line: if you enjoy biographies/histories of the people who shaped American capitalism, this is a wonderful book. But even if that isn't your cup of tea, there is a lot of the human element to make this great reading.
on October 6, 2003
Jean Strouse has tackled a fascinating biographical subject in this book, John Pierpont Morgan. Morgan was the kingpin of the fledging American financial industry from before the Civil War until his death just before World War I. Morgan's firm helped to bring European capital to the United States that helped financial the great industrial boom of the later 19th Century and constructed huge corporate mergers like U.S. Steel in 1901. Morgan's sound financial dealing led to be highly respected both on Wall Street and off. In 1907, his stature with leading financial institutions helped him engineer a stop to a panic that threatened Wall Street. Morgan was an extremely wealthly man and later in life used that wealth to finance the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to build his own extensive art collection. Morgan had more of a European attitude toward marriage and after his own marriage began to deteriorate in 1880 or so, kept mistresses for the remainder of his life. He was also very involved with the Episcopal Church, taking three weeks out of his busy schedule every three years to attend the Church meetings, and in yachting, helping to finance several America's Cup winners.
Strouse obviously spent a tremendous amout of time researching her subject. In an interview she said that she had gained access to previously untapped copies of letters and diaries of both Morgan and his inner circle. Her book details Morgan's life in almost painstaking detail - from his financial dealings to his art acquisitions to his affairs to his relationship with his father. The author also does a good job and giving us background information about the period in which Morgan lived - the social conditions, the progressive movement and various presidential elections. This is important because all of these factors effected how Morgan conducted his business and how he was viewed by the press and public at the time.
Unfortunately, for all of her research, this is not a very readable biography. The writing is some what bland and uncolorful. The author does a serviceable job trying to explain the complex financial dealings that ruled Morgan's world but often bogs the reader down in figures. I felt as if I needed a degree in finance just to understand the way Morgan shifted around stocks and bonds. It was push for me to finish this book, often times I had trouble wanting to pick it up and continue.
There are few recent biographies of this important 19th century character available, which is why I was excited when I saw Strouse's biography of Morgan. Morgan is a man shrouded in the myth and legend of his financial dealings and I was hoping this biography would shed some light on the man. One cannot fault Strouse's extensive research into her subject however her writing style bogs down the information and makes the book difficult to complete.
on September 4, 2002
The presence of J.P. Morgan looms large over the financial and economic landscape of the Gilded Age. Either castigated for wielding economic clout or praised for providing stability to the industrial order, Morgan has remained a mystery. Although recent scholars V. Carosso and R. Chernow have studied the financial activities of the House of Morgan, there have been few biographies of Morgan. Making use of new archive sources and the extensive collection of Morgan materials in the Pierpont Morgan Library, Strouse fills this void with a masterful biography. She carefully depicts Morgan's taciturn personality, his financial tutelage under a critical father, and his relations with both wives and his children. Strouse provides a balanced evaluation of Morgan's financial activities, carefully articulating his role as the nation's unofficial central banker. He attracted European capital to American enterprises, organized new corporations to promote efficiency, consolidated bankrupt railroads, worked to stabilize financial markets when crises arose, and established new business structures. While Morgan was frequently demonized for his activities, Strouse argues that he often acted in the nation's best interests (and his own). His role as art collector is also examined. Students of the Gilded Age will find this biography essential reading. Highly recommended for all economic and business history collections.
on February 22, 2002
i read ron chernow's book on j. p. morgan before reading this one and initially did not think i would like this one as much, but ended up liking it more. i recommend reading both of them to get a complete picture of morgan, who was, with john d. rockefeller and theodore roosevelt, perhaps the most influential man in america between 1875 and 1925.
chernow's book is really about the house of morgan, and j. p. morgan dies halfway through it, but jean strouse devotes all of her attention to j. p. morgan himself, both to his business and pleasure. he was a man of large ego and appetites, but enough of a fiduciary to be prudent about what he did in all spheres.
both biographers, chernow and strouse, seemed to grow fond of their subject, which is not unusual, except that morgan is a difficult man to warm to. at times they seemed to rationalize or explain away some pretty nasty behavior, e.g., his bigotry and prejudice, which, again, as a fiduciary, he did not let get in the way of making money. if i were jewish, i would not be nearly so tolerant of morgan's virulent anti-semitism as chernow and strouse charitably were. they seemed to accept it as a by- product of his time and class, and i think every biographer ends up liking his subject.
morgan could be an arrogant, haughty jerk and a prick to people, including his family, and was indifferent to his second wife -- his first, the love of his life, having died right after they were married -- and son -- an ineffectual but well-meaning typical "scion" -- but morgan grew up when the upper classes felt entitled to think and act that way, assuming the rightness of their noblesse station in this world. and, he was in a hardball business and playing for keeps with the biggest money of anyone, at any time.
one thing both chernow and strouse point out is how morgan -- seemingly the jupiter above all men -- and his financial house -- seemingly above all nations and boundaries and oriented toward britain rather than toward america -- periodically had to be reined in by the federal government when they got too bold or indifferent to the laws of nations or what was in the usa's best interests.
the law of money was all morgan and his men understood and they thought it was paramount. their machinations, while mostly for the public good and economic development of this country, caused enough distrust of wall street bankers and financiers that more government regulation was called for and ultimately, the federal reserve bank was created, right after he died.
on the positive side, morgan was an inarticulate but, deep inside, a crudely warm man, who genuinely perceived of his role as steward of the american banking and financial system, to enable large amounts of capital to flow westward from europe, to enable the usa to industrialize and expand. he was our banking system and federal reserve system all rolled into one and there is no one like him and has not been since he died. alan greenspan does only a third of what morgan did for the u. s. economy.
jean strouse does a good job of explaining all of this in a way that is not arcane or boring. i am not versed in banking and economics and some of what morgan did in effecting the acquisition and push of big money into the economy and railroads, oil, and other emerging industries is difficult to explain without going into some technical detail.
jean strouse carries this off and i imagine that when she started she had to educate herself about economics to know her subject well enough to not make a fool of herself, as she knew that everyone on wall street would read her book. her discussion of economics a la morgan is both interesting and educational.
the non-business aspect of strouse's book and treatment of morgan the man is just as interesting. morgan was not a philanthopist on the scale of rockefeller, but was a fabulous art and rare book and antiquity collector. a good portion of his collections, except for what his son sold off, became the basis for several new york museum collections that we now enjoy.
and, as strouse points out, morgan was one of the first to have what we now call a rustic lake cottage, on raquette lake in the adirondacks; he spent little time there himself because it frankly was not his style. he also had the nineteenth century version of a phallic cigarette boat, a darth vaderesque, black on black hundred foot yacht, the corsair, which would ominously announce his presence whenever it would glide into a foreign port and tie up; suffice it to say that people far more important than the local press took note of his comings and goings.
i heartily recommend that you read this book. stick with it, as it seems to bog down early on in list-making and daily living detail, but then picks up and finishes strong. you will find it interesting, well-written and worthwhile.
on February 18, 2002
J.P. Morgan was not the wealthiest of the great early industrialists. That title went to John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Nor was the story of his rise to prominence in the business world the most improbable or remarkable. The young Charles Schwab Jr. would claim that prize, in my opinion. Finally, he did not leave the most lasting and influential legacy through grand-scale philanthropy. Andrew Carnegie was clearly the winner in that regard. Yet, Jean Strouse's wonderful biography "Morgan: Financier" makes one thing perfectly evident: J.P. Morgan was the single most powerful private citizen in America - perhaps the world - in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The scion of a powerful Connecticut banking family, J. Pierpont Morgan was the most uncommon of business specimens: a privileged and sheltered young man who grew up to advance the family business beyond the loftiest expectations of his industrious forbearers. During the course of his lifetime, the center of global finance shifted from London to New York and the United States emerged as the greatest industrial power on earth. While America's prodigious natural endowments and the industrious spirit of the nation were fundamental to those events, J.P. Morgan and his banking empire, the so-called House of Morgan, filled the critical role of financial steward that oversaw and managed that tremendous growth.
During the course of his fabulous career, J.P. Morgan played many roles critical to US economic development: investment banker, venture capitalist, management consultant, central banker, and labor dispute mediator. In his efforts to establish business harmony and eliminate mutually ruinous competition among railroads, Morgan frequently orchestrated massive corporate reorganizations, popularly known as "Morganizations," of usually bankrupt lines. Debt would be rescheduled, the capital structure would be shifted from debt to equity, and new management would be brought in, leading to renewed investor confidence and rising stock prices of the Morganized line. Morgan's influence over capital also thrust him into an occasional political role, the most notable example being his role in mediating the anthracite coal strike of 1902 that averted an impending national calamity. Finally, and most importantly, Morgan served as the de-facto chairman of the Federal Reserve before that essential institution existed. In 1895 and again in 1907, Morgan leapt into the breach of a major financial panic and prevented a total collapse of the nation's economy by personally serving as the lender of last resort. Strouse chronicles these activities in a manner and style that is both fascinating and satisfying to the corporate finance amateur and Wall Street maven alike.
On balance, Strouse delivers an objective account of Morgan's personal and professional life, but it certainly skews toward the favorable. Morgan's role in responding to the great panic of 1907 is particularly interesting as a means to gauge the opinions of the author about her subject. She is unabashed in her support and paints all Morgan's actions in the most admirable light, ascribing only patriotic and selfless motivations to his activities over the course of the two-week event. That Morgan may have benefited in anyway from the destruction of the trust banks (that some argued took away business from him) or that US Steel may have scooped up Tennessee Iron & Coal at a premium (as the Stanley Commission of 1911 later claimed) are dismissed out of hand by Strouse. The charge that the whole panic was intentionally set by Morgan to destroy the trust banks but got out of their control is described as pure paranoia and entirely groundless. Nevertheless, Strouse doesn't shy away from pointing out Morgan's personal shortcomings, such as the hypocrisy of his outward devotion to the Episcopal Church and his well-known philandering. In all, "Morgan: Financier" is a remarkable work on a remarkable life
on February 17, 2002
i read ron chernow's book on j. p morgan before reading this one and initially did not think i would like jean strouse's book as much, but ended up liking it just as much. i suggest reading both of them to get a picture of j. p. morgan, who was, with john d. rockefeller, perhaps the most influential man in america between 1875 and 1925.
chernow's book is about the house of morgan, and j.p. morgan dies halfway through it, but jean strouse devotes all of her attention to j.p. morgan himself, both to his business and pleasure...
it struck me that both biographers seemed to grow fond of their subject, a difficult man to warm to, and at times rationalized or explained away some pretty nasty behavior. e.g., if i were jewish, i woud not be nearly so tolerant of morgan's virulent anti-semitism as chernow and stroouse charitably were. they seemed to accept that as a by-product of his time and class.
j. p morgan could be an arrogant, haughty jerk and a prick to peole, including his family, but he grew up when the upper classes felt entitled to think and act that way, assuming the rightness of their noblesse station in this world. and, he was in a hardball business and playing for keeps with the biggest money of anyone, at any time.
on the positive side, morgan was an inarticulate but deep inside, sort of warm man who genuinely perceived of his role as being the steward of the american banking and financial system, to enable large amounts of capital to flow westward, from europe, to enable the usa to industrialize and expand. he was our banking system and federal reserve system all rolled into one and there is no one like him and has not been since he died. alan greenspan does only a third of what morgan did for the us economy.
jean strouse does a good job of explaining all of this in a way that is not arcane or booring. i am not versed in banking and economics and some of what morgan did in effecting the acquisition and push of big money into the economy and railroads, oil, and other emerging industriesx is difficult to explain without going into some technical detail.
jean strouse carries this off and i imagine that when she starrted she had to educate herself about economics to know her subject well enough to not make a fool of herself, as she knew everyone on wall street would read her book.
the non-business aspect of strouse's book and treatment of morgan the man is just as interesting. morgan was no philanthopist on the scale of rockefeller, but was a fabulous art and raare book and antiquity collector. a good portion of his collections, except for what his son sold off, became the basis for several new york museum collections that we now enjoy.
i heartily recommend that you read this book. stick with it early on, as it bogs down in some list-making detail. if you do, you will find it worthwhile, well-written and interesting.
on March 2, 2001
Author Jean Strouse presents an in-depth historical account of J. Pierpont Morgan's life and times as a preeminent financier during the expansion of the American economy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She details the deals he engaged in to raise capital in Europe, help the railroads overcome bankruptcy, and provide bonds and loans to clients. She also details his role in working with other financial leaders and government officials to stabilize markets and - at a time when the U.S. had no national bank - to set up many of the corporate and financial structures we now take for granted. We at getAbstract.com were particularly interested in Strouse's descriptions of the political, economic, and social history of each period as a backdrop for Morgan's life. Morgan comes alive in her descriptions of his family life, travels, and art collection. This excellent, comprehensive biography will intrigue executives, managers, historians and anyone who appreciates war stories about a master dealmaker.
on September 28, 2000
I am a long time student of the American and European Gilded Age capitalists and industrialists, especially the Morgan's. As such I have read every biography of Morgan and his associates ever printed. This latest by Jean Strouse is without question the finest I have read. Here's why;
Well written history immurses the reader in the period under discussion; nothing in the writing jars the reader back to the present. The very packaging of the book itself must give one the feel of the period
The subject (in this case Morgan) must be viewed from many different angles; peers, family, reporters, foreign potentates, etc so that one gains a 360 degree view of the subject.
The book must contain heretofore unseen illustrations. Not just the usual ones.
The author must be so familiar and attracted to the subject that the writing is imbued with high drama. When you finish you are left with a feeling of wonder. You need time to allow the experience to permeate your senses. You do not even feel like moving onto the next book yet.
Jean Strouse's biography accomplishes all the above with a 5 star rating !!
on October 3, 1999
Ms. Strouse has confused detail with insight: after wading through this book I still have no real understanding of who the man was. Perhaps Morgan is just a difficult subject, but Ms. Strouse tackles him by giving you reams of data in the hope that this will show just how well she's researched her subject. In fact, you DON'T care about the name of EACH painting he bought, or WHEN, or for how much. She tells you this ad nauseam. You DON'T have to know the name of each and every ship he sailed in, nor the time and date of each voyage he took. She DOESN'T have any grasp of the financial world, and it shows: her discussions of his life's work, finance, are shallow. I would absolutely NOT recommend this book. And just to show you all that I'm not a curmudgeon, I LOVED the following biographies: Truman (McCulloch); Churchill (Manchester); Rockefeller (Chernow)...Ms. Strouse needs to learn that a judicious selection of facts is crucial to presenting a balanced view. Repetition of every fact you've learned about your subject is just overload.
on June 24, 1999
Strouse goes into amazing detail (at times a bit thick, but always fascinating) as she charts Morgan's entire life--out of which context emerge the outlines of a number of the most significant shifts in emerging global finance coming out of the American Civil War: 1) moving captial to the US from Europe to refinance Civil War debt and contribute to the building of the US industrial base 2)a broad shift from debt-based financing to equity-based financing, and 3)the (at the time) scandalous shift in valuing companies from book-value to multiples of earnings (the financial media of the day descried that Morgan, at one point, got international backing for a shipping combination valued at between 2 and 3 times annual revenues).
Insights the Strouse bio makes accessible inform the daily world around us in bounteous ways that make this book an incredibly worthwhile (as well as compelling) read. In this morning's WSJ, there was discussion of Iran now making good on previously nationalized assets so as to make Iran a more attractive place for international investors; the discussion of the bond market in light of the stock market's powerful gains continues; and individual investors as well as institutions are forever coming to terms with the fact that the market continues to support companies with what have traditionally been considered wildly high p/e ratios.
Add to the mix that Morgan was a fascinating man--as interested in the details of the dresses he had made for his wife, daughters, and mistresses as in the contents of his library, the speed of and fittings on his latest yacht, as well as the characters of the men who worked for him and with whom he chose to form investing syndicates, and you have a delightful, powerful biography.