Review: The House of Morgan, Ron Chernow

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Morgans are probably familiar to many. To some, this is as the boogeyman; to others, a legendary saviour; and to yet others, a gentleman. These various incarnations should not come as a surprise after 150 years of domination on the financial landscape. What is more of a surprise is how interesting — and relevant — the wide scope of the Morgan’s makes this history.

Mr Chernow’s look at this house of financiers is more complex than I originally thought it would be. The author’s style does not disappoint, though as his earliest book it is not quite as full as in the later years. I think the main difference is that less of other people’s writings are used in describing the main characters. That said, here more than before it has been possible to get impressions from living people who worked aside some of the Morgan Grenfell and Morgan Stanley directors, and I think that opportunity has been used to a degree.

The older Morgans — Junius and JP — come through as gentlemen, epitomizing the age they lived and worked in. The younger ones get swept away as the family slowly loses control of the various institutions that keep on with the name. Thomas Lamont is perhaps one of the few intermediary figures who is given a real chance to shine on these pages though many a chapter focusses on other individuals in the Morgan banking complex.

The story reaches its end with the ’80’s, seemingly roaming by. At this point the institutions are large enough for the author to focus on only the most remarkable (whether for good or ill) names while gently directing the story with events at Morgan Stanley, Morgan Guaranteed, and Morgan Grenfell.

The conclusion always reached a bit closer to the present than I thought it would, but the way we got there was thrilling — and for people who have seen a few banking films or read some thrillers, some of the characters you meet here will already be familiar from other stories.

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