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The Warburgs Bankers philanthropists scholars socialites artists and politicians the Warburgs stood at the pinnacle of German and later of German American Jewry They forged economic dynasties built mansions and estates assembled libraries endowed charities and advised a German kaiser and two American presidents But their very success made the Warburgs lightning rods for anti Semitism and their sense of patriotism became increasingly dangerous in a Germany that had declared Jews the enemyRon Chernow's hugely fascinating history is a group portrait of a clan whose members were renowned for their brilliance culture and personal energy yet tragically vulnerable to the dark and irrational currents of the twentieth century

10 thoughts on “The Warburgs

  1. Jan Jan says:

    This saga of a German American family of jewish bankers was on my bucket list for uite some time After starting the book right after Christmas 2016 I finished it in only ten days much faster than I thought Being written by one if not the of my favourite authors when it comes to biographies this was once again an easy read As always Ron Chernow with this book lives up to his reputation as a brillant resercher and storyteller Mastering the task of bringing together the story of numerous outstanding persons such as Aby S Eric and Sir Sigmund Warburg to name only a few was no doubt a hard one Chernow mastered it uite well He is able to very well carve out the different charakters of very different people The book also does not stop at telling the history of the Warburg family or the different firms It's also a very enlightning on the history of Jews in GermanyBeside a story very well told this book has one major downside for me The lack of order Overall Chernow of course follows the timeline But jumping between the different persons involved in the Warburg history there are periods of time covered twice three times or from different perspectives Going through the genarations but at the same time coming back to times already talked about made it uite hard to follow some times More than once I had to consult the family tree which is contained at the begining of the book and it took me uite some time to get back on track

  2. Darwin8u Darwin8u says:

    It was the Warburg's good fortune that whenever we were about to get very rich something would happen and we became poor and had to start over again Siegmund W Warburg uoted in Ron Chernow's 'The Warburgs'Working in finance the Warburg name wasn't unknown to me but it never carried the same cachet as the Rothchilds the Morgans the Rockefellers or the Medicis Part of this is certainy geography Being American I've had exposure to the myths and the institutions created by the Rockefellers and the Morgans the Mellons and the Goldman Sachs But it was than that The Warburg family and banking stretched over multiple generations and dynasties It also peaked right before the Nazis came into power so the Warburgs faced a large amount of antisemetism like almost all European Jews during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century It is bold of Chernow to take on this family history It is a big thesis And it is a difficult task to write a compelling family history framed around banking and Germany and Nazis and not create a hot mess of a book At times I felt this book was falling into a hot mess It spread out banks fractured families suabbled and for a couple hundred pages the book was a chore But ultimately Chernow almost pulled it off I was fascinated by characters like Aby Max Paul Felix and Fritz Warburg the Mittleweg Warburgs Sometimes I felt as if each of the brothers carried a characteristic or passion I could relate to Most of the attention of the book is spent on brothers who bank the exception being Aby the art Historian and rabid book collector so the sisters while addressed get a smaller role Later as the Warburg banking empire starts to rebuild attention is spent on cousins Eric Paul and James Mittleweg Warburgs and Sir Siegmund Warburg Alsterufer Warburgs By this time the Warburg families have spread mostly out of Germany to America Switzerland Sweden the Netherlands etc But like with the previous generation of Warburg men I found characteristics of these dynamic men that I could relate to They were all different often difficult and driven but fascinatingChernow writes primarily about banking families and American biographiesChernow's Banking Dynasties1 Titan The Life of John D Rockefeller Sr ★★★★ 2 The House of Morgan An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance ★★★★3 The Warburgs The Twentieth Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family ★★★★Chernow's American Political Biographies1 Alexander Hamilton ★★★★★ 2 Washington A Life ★★★★★ 3 Grant ★★★★★ Upon reviewing my reviews I'm convinced Chernow does slightly better at writing histories of individuals rather than families; politics rather than finance However I should note I've enjoyed ALL of his books and he's a master at his craft

  3. Kristen Kristen says:

    The negatives hard to keep track of all the charactersThe positives a remarkeable story the family lived through important and interesting parts of USEuropeanWorld history The most interesting parts were about the German Jewish families perspective on the rise of Nazism Overall worth reading but definitely an investment

  4. Gerry Gerry says:

    This book on the Warburg family is simply a masterpiece and I enjoyed every page Since beginning this book in January 2019 I was unfortunately very busy that created a situation where I was either exhausted or lacked concentration to continue reading As a result the benefit for me was that I had to review previous pages and at times whole chapters in order to keep with the flow that I knew this book held Approximately ½ way through I came to realize I was not reading a book at all; rather I was watching an Opera or listening to a Symphony – to which in my own mind I could not find the specific Opera nor the musician who wrote the specific Symphony To my elated surprise an epiphany came to me on the very last page of the book and within the very last paragraph of the final page For those who have not read the book I will keep the secret guardedSubtitled as “The 20th Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family” Chernow simply cannot and does not begin at that point – he begins a written anthology of short family stories; and works toward a crescendo of history within the prelude and first two chapters The tone is set and I sat back and listened to the words I was readingComical scenes arrive when in 1906 MM Warburg Co provided a loan to the Japanese Government The day the Japanese delegation was set to meet the Mayor of Hamburg Max Warburg and his family were staying at the same hotel as the delegation; their townhouse was being remodeled The Japanese wanted Max to accompany them so on the day of the meeting Max put on a round hat went down the steps only to find the delegation members were all wearing top hats Max went back to the room and put on a top hat – when he reappeared the Japanese delegation were all in round hats Courteously Max informed the delegation to “stay put” and he went back to his room and retrieved his round hat they then all proceeded to City Hall to meet the Mayor of HamburgBetrayal can be seen in many forms within these pages The Warburgs were a proud German Jewish family Paul Warburg had earned the Iron Cross during the First World War After the war the German hierarchy wanted to separate the Jewish efforts vs the Christian and non Jewish sector of the efforts that were made during the war This was only the beginning as one with hindsight would expect The Jewish people in Germany had received emancipation in 1868 for the full purpose of integration into society The Warburg banking establishment began in 1798 and under the Corporal Hitler by way of Göring the bank was forced to either be totally abandoned or accept aryanization in 1938 For 140 years of banking and family involvement in support of Germany to read this was reprehensible to me but as we know this was the fact of life at the time During the rise of Corporal Hitler the propaganda that the Warburgs “sold out” during the Versailles Treaty of 1919 was wholly and completely inaccurate and blasphemous to the core Max Warburg was the one representative of the German delegation at Versailles that informed his colleagues “not to accept” the terms being offered A well documented event that historians have confirmed many times since This wouldn’t be the first nor last betrayal this family would experience during the Second World War There were so many betrayals on so many fronts that I simply cannot place them all here in one review Chernow does an excellent job of informing the reader with the backdrops and scenes that followed to all of their individual conclusions and resultsWhen the bank was forced to be aryanized in 1938 the Warburgs had made an arrangement with the help of Dr Rudolph Brinkmann to change the name of the bank Arrangements were initially “hopeful” that the Warburgs would one day return to their bank and retain their sole name Dr Brinkmann unfortunately took plenty advantage of this issue and in so doing blocked the name being rightfully being changed until 1 October 1991 All Warburgs fought for this from 194546 onward Legal cases were many struggles difficult and Eric Warburg was the last alive to hear of the official name change at the age of 90 in 1990 just months before his death Eric was one of the family members I enjoyed reading the details about along with Siegmund Paul Max Aby as well as the Warburg women and the strength they all seemed to have in the darkest hours This strength of character and will of the mind enhanced with an intelligent approach to many issues goes back before the period of 1798 in this family It really wasn’t until a post WWII time frame that we read of deep arguments and issues within the family By this point in time the cousins all have the same goal in mind; but each has a different way of arriving to the Opera conclusion As with any family some are liked and disliked than othersEric Warburg was a very interesting read for me For example take his efforts to gain a commission in the US Army Air Force USAAF during WWII He became good friends while in Florida for the Officers Training Course with Warner Marshall; cousin to General George Marshall In 1942 the US Government had a desperate need for German linguists; Eric enters the Intelligence Service with the USAAF as result The day of graduation each Officer Candidate was to meet with the General Staff prior to receiving their commissions Warner informs Eric that when he enters the room and when he comes to attention he should “snap his heels” When Eric enters the room and prior to standing at attention in a rather flamboyant and overdone manner he snaps his heels Shocked the Commanding General at the table asked him where he had served; Eric replied in reinforced reference of “r’s” rolling that he had served in the “Prussian Guard Field Artillery” Eric was then forced to explain himself and he gave the long story of how he immigrated to the United States and how he wanted to help his new nation He still had family in Hamburg and elsewhere in Germany at the time He serves with distinction following his intelligence training in Harrisburg Pennsylvania and is uickly promoted up the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel LtCol during the war Flash forward to May 1945 Eric is ironically one of the first US Officers to interrogate Hermann Göring It was after all Göring’s economic bureaucracy to spearhead the Aryanization of Jewish companies in Germany to include MM Warburg Co – revenge can be sweet when mixed in with a bit of ironyEric approaches Göring with a thespian skillset even before meeting He takes on the role of Mister Vikstrom an American Officer whose family knew Göring’s first wife – a Swedish woman With great detail Eric is able to inform Göring that they had met in the 1920’s in gatherings and parties and provides detail that Göring is able to recall but not able to remember Eric For 20 hours Eric interrogates the Fat Man an Army Sergeant sits taking notes in a corner as it occurs In order to gain Göring’s attention and to keep him focused the uestions are interspersed with the formal title Herr Reichsmarschall There is a photo of Eric sending off Göring to Luxembourg from the Augsburg airport his next destination enroute to Nuremburg eventually for the trial Eric was not surprised that Göring avoided the hangmen’s noose This chapter was entitled “Fat Man and Little Boy”; fat man being Göring and as Eric was small in stature it was for him that Chernow called “Little Boy”In addition to the story line of the family we learn how the German Jewish family would approach and think of Zionism In the early part of the 20th century there was compassion for this; however even after the Second World War we see that than ½ the family remain anti Zionists The contrasts for reasons were fundamentally based on a love of Germany even after the war ended There was also a distinct education on the viewpoints and thoughts of Russian Jews Polish Jews and Jews from the Caucuses All of it an internal education I had not read of before I came away with at least a better understanding of respectful reasons toward these thoughts Some Americans for example seem to compare the Jewish State of Israel as a direct comparison to the British influx in America and the push against Native Americans For those that think in this manner are merely comparing apples and oranges and there is no direct or indirect correlation to either independent eventA beautiful symphony was this work and I am a much knowledgeable for having read this book The book was originally published in 1993; the cover that displays in this review is the post Hamilton work that Chernow published later Hamilton is the book that has been used for the extremely well received play on Broadway in NYC I will skip that work altogether and have no desire to see the play – I am a Jeffersonian sort of American John Adams opinion on Alexander Hamilton is enough reason for me to avoid both President Kennedy while eating dinner with Nobel Laureates in 1962 stated that “there has never been so many great minds gathered together for dinner in the Whitehouse since President Thomas Jefferson ate here alone”Hope this review encourages some to read the entire book Chernow did a fantastic job

  5. Bob Bob says:

    Summary The story of a prosperous and sprawling Jewish banking family who eventually established banking and philanthropic efforts in Germany England and the US experiencing both great success and influence and stunning disillusionment with the rise of Nazi GermanyThe Warburgs It sounds like the title of a serialized TV drama chronicling a wealthy influential family with its own inner struggles eccentric and driven characters triumphs tragedies and affairs This wouldn't be far off of the truth about this Jewish banking family whose rise began with the founding of MM Warburg Co in 1798I picked this up because I've thoroughly enjoyed Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and Grant review This is a much earlier work and in many ways far complicated in telling the story of several generations of a family from the turn of the nineteenth century into the 1990's It was a family with two major and rival branches the Alsterufer and Mittelweg Warburgs and a family that became established on both sides of the AtlanticFor much of the story the Mittelweg side of the family was in the ascendent The five sons of Moritz Warburg exercised great influence on both sides of the Atlantic Max Warburg stands out in the development of MM Warburg as a power house private bank in Hamburg before the rise of Nazi Germany His elder brother Aby relinuished his place in banking for intellectual pursuits amassing a uniue library that reflected his synthesis of knowledge bankrolled by his prosperous brothers who stay by him during periods where his genius descended into insanity Brothers Paul and Felix emigrated to the US Paul was an economic genius who outlined the framework for our Federal Reserve System while Felix married into the Schiff banking family and became an influential partner in Kuhn Loeb in New York City and engaged in extensive Jewish philanthropy Fritz fled Germany for Sweden  Max remained and struggled to maintain his banking house's clients in an increasingly hostile atmosphere and held out the hope that some accommodation could be reached with the Nazis In the end he turned the bank over to the Aryan Brinckmann supposedly a caretaker for the Warburg interest but who fought to retain control after the warThe later part of the book chronicles the post war trajectory of Warburg interests and the rise of the Alsterufer branch in the person of Siegmund Warburg who established SG Warburg in England in 1946 and built it into a major investment banking firm before his death Chernow's portrayal of this financial genius was fascinating We observe a leader who exercised perfectionist control over the firm while delivering excellence of customer service to both small and large investor a man of both towering rages and refinement one as much inclined to the philosopher's retreat as to the hurley burley of the financial world The tense alliancerivalry between him and Eric Max's son over the re establishment of the Warburg name in Germany accentuates the continued competition between the two branches of the familyOne of the themes is the tension the Warburgs struggled with over their German and Jewish identities a tension many Jews in Germany faced They with other Germans took great pride in the rise of Germany as a power and saw their own efforts as part of this Max even served as a pre war director on the board of IG Farben the chemical concern that manufactured Zyklon B used to exterminate Jews in the concentration camps We follow the gradual opening of the eyes of Max and other family members to the unfolding tragedy of Nazism and how a nation would willingly participate in the elimination of some of its greatest fellow citizens Max both tried to encourage Jews to wait it out and yet also helped bankroll and facilitate the flight of many others and was one of the last to leave while Jews couldAnother theme is the dissipation of Jewish identity through wealth and marriage outside the faith Each generation was increasingly less observant and the main thing that marked them out was philanthropic efforts Some became secular others married Christians allowing children to be baptized and raised in Christian faithWhat is striking at the same time is a family marked by financial and intellectual genius whether it was Moritz the first of the Mittelwegs or Max or his son Eric who eventually succeeded in restoring the MM Warburg Co name in Hamburg Jimmy Paul's son advised Franklin Roosevelt for a time and flip flops between progressive and conservative stances alienating him from most of those in power until he came back in favor during the Kennedy administration One could go on and discuss the varied careers of the Warburg women including Max's four daughtersOne of the challenges was keeping all the names and family relationships straight Chernow provides a family tree in the front matter and it's good to keep it marked What is striking is that he spins a fascinating narrative of this sprawling family its hopes its genius its outliers it's impact and the cost of wealth over the generations Even today the Warburg name remains on Warburg Pincus and MM Warburg Co  SG Warburg was bought out by Swiss Bank became Warburg Dillon Read and later UBS Warburg before the Warburg name gave way to UBS Investment Bank Chernow helps us understand the drive and the significant actors behind this enduring legacy of influence in the worlds of banking philanthropy and culture

  6. Joseph Sciuto Joseph Sciuto says:

    I owe a great debt to Ron Chernow His 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton sparked an interest in American history especially the Revolutionary period that has provided me with countless hours of enjoyment and a never ending appreciation and amazement for just how much our Founding Fathers achieved against formidable odds In the meantime Alexander Hamilton has become one of my heroes and beside my desk I have a large framed photo of this amazing human being And no I have not seen the Broadway playMr Chernow's The Warburgs is an amazing portrait of a German Jewish family who rose to prominence in the world of banking as far back as the mid nineteen century and continued against great obstacles Hitler and his love and fun band of Nazis' Until the dawn of the 21st century It is a family whose banking expertise extended way beyond the financial world and also produced an astonishing number of philanthropists scholars artists politicians and military figures who played important roles in World War 2 fighting with the Americans and the allies and whose generosity and influence spread across Europe Asia the Middle East and especially AmericaThe book spans nearly two hundred years and Mr Chernow's inclusion and insights into many of the historical events Such as World War 1 and 2 the Russian pogroms of the Jews the founding of the state of Israel the depression During this time is uite an achievement Yet it is the antisemitic theme that runs throughout this book that is most disturbing Despite everything this family did to better the lives of all people throughout the world especially the German and American people the abuse and displacement of much of the family during World War 2 and beyond is almost beyond belief If it wasn't so terrifyingly true In the half decade I have lived on this planet I have had the privilege of knowing and befriending people of many different races nationalities and religions It has made my life much richer colorful and enjoyable than any possessions or amount of money could have given me yet the one theme that has run throughout most of my relationships is the prejudice and bigotry against the Jewish religion and culture It is appalling and reprehensible that a group of people who have contributed so much in the field of medicine science technology humanity and the arts just to mention a few can still be affronted to this very day by so much prejudice To think that so many Christians could be so antisemitic is even baffling considering that Jesus was Jewish My best guess is that anti Semitism springs from a well of jealousy that far too many people drink from? A jealousy at the great success that the Jewish people have achieved but what people seem to forget is that their success comes from hard work education and drive and thirst to make the world a better and safer placeThat being said The Warburgsis a reminder of the resiliency of an amazing family and I highly highly recommend

  7. Arminius Arminius says:

    The Warburg’s were a banking giant out of Hamburg Germany They started in the 19th Century in the banking industry because of European anti Semitism Laws did not allow Jewish families to own land so Jews were diverted to occupations other than farming The Warburg’s saw the fellow Jewish family Rothschild’s amass a fortune They followed suitThey became exports in international finance This helped them avoid Nazi persecution The Nazi’s were very naïve when it came to world finance Hitler enticed a retired finance genius Hjalmar Schacht out of retirement to head Germany’s Treasury Schacht performed a miracle rescuing Germany from the depression with phenomenal German economic growth Schacht needed the Jewish Germans vast international experience to complete this miracle So as Hitler tried to rid Germany of Jewish influence he allowed the Jewish German banking giants to operate unmolested following Schacht’s advice Schacht became disillusioned with Hitler as the Fuhrer began to mingle in economic affairs He was often heard arguing with Hitler Boy I wish I could have heard those arguments Much bad can be said about Hitler but his mind was top notch intellectual So Schacht fell out of good grace with Hitler Conseuentially the Warburg’s do as wellThe Warburg’s being wealthy had the option of leaving Germany Therefore the family started businesses in England and America Their great minds and energy made them successes in both places Ron Chernow the author goes into excruciating details of the generations of Warburg’s that I found kind of long winded I must say it lacked the powerful attractive details of his other books

  8. Lorri Lorri says:

    Ron Chernow captures the history of the Warburgs their rise and fall accomplishments and failures with his detailed research and excellent storytelling skills

  9. Jeffrey Jeffrey says:

    If Ron Chernow’s book The Warburgs were a bank it would certainly fail His high interest bearing account that of a Jewish banking dynasty that stretches back six generations to pre industrial Europe is bloated and inefficient Chernow exhibits no economy of words nor judicious standards for what to include versus what to cut And there are enough adjectives deposited in the book’s 700 pages to make administrators of even the stingiest of deposit insurance schemes wince Thankfully for the reader though it’s a book not a bank And an engrossing one at thatThe early history of the Warburg family is obscured by the shadows of time Chernow traces the first “certifiable” ancestor to 16th century Westphalia near to the geographic center of the modern German state He dismisses as fanciful any suggestions that the family is of Sephardic stock or that its roots can be traced back to late Medieval Venice A number of contemporaneous sources present the Warburg Venice connection as factual though it’s unclear if this reflects a up to date genealogical scholarship or the internet’s uniue ability to perpetuate and magnify a mythIf indeed Chernow’s first ‘Warburg’ Simon von Cassel d 1566 had migrated from Venice around that time it was likely to escape the harsh conditions placed on the Venetian republic’s Jewish residents at the time It also could be the case that the early family had Ashkenzi roots in German speaking lands and found it commercially useful to be associated with the prominent Venetian del Banco banking family which itself may have been the product of exiled Jews fleeing central Europe Whether owing to foreign connections or local success Simon von Cassel had obviously achieved some measure of prominence when he was designated a protected Jew in the town of Warburg a status which allowed him to do both money changing and pawn broking businessA little over a century later the successful descendants of Simon von Cassel outgrew the provincial town whose namesake they had adopted and moved north to the neighboring German speaking port cities of Altona and Hamburg The former was then ruled by the Danish crown and Jewish residents enjoyed a number of privileges that would have made business conditions favorable than those that Jews in other jurisdictions faced Hamburg meanwhile was a leading Hanseatic city ruled by a relatively enlightened and democratic merchant class Its maritime connections to Scandinavia the British Isles and the rest of Europe by the 18th century lended an international air to the bustling city and it is there in which story of the modern Warburgs really beginsIn 1798 two Warburg brothers converted the small money changing business that their father had beueathed to them into the MM Warburg Co bank The Napoleonic Wars soon followed a turn of events that would prove fortuitous for both the Jews of Hamburg and for the Warburg bank as well For along with the occupation of Napoleon’s troops in 1806 came the ideals of the French Revolution especially the principle of euality under the law Hamburg’s Jews suddenly enjoyed rights they had never before known especially with regard to property dealingsWhen the French left Hamburg in 1814 they took with them the massive stores of silver the city had accumulated through its vibrant international trade The Warburg bank using its own international connections coordinated with the Rothschild banking family in Vienna to replenish silver to the Hamburg markets and in the process gained the goodwill of the city’s traders Over the next half century the city grew at a rapid pace especially as transatlantic passenger lines opened up The Jewish community also grew uickly numbering 16000 by the century’s midpoint The Warburgs assumed a prominent role in both a city in which “business was its secular religion” that according to Chernow and in a Jewish community whose prospects were on the rise especially following the creation of the German state in 1871Chernow tells this early history of the family in its completeness in the first 20 pages of the book After that though things slow down and the chronological narrative turns to the lives of the leading Warburg figures including the brothers Siegmund 1835 1889 and Moritz 1838 1910 who together would lead the bank from the founding of Germany until nearly the outbreak of the first world war Siegmund married eastward to the daughter of an aristocratic Russian Jew in Kiev Moritz on the other hand married the stolid daughter of Frankfurt jewelers From there two branches of the family would emerge from history the Alsterufers and the Mittelwegs so called because of the respective streets which they built their houses on in HamburgThe Mittelweg Warburgs enjoyed an early measure of genealogical good fortune Four of their five boys enjoyed immense success in a number of different fields The eldest son Aby was an avid bibliophile and family legend has it that while still in grammar school he made a deal with second son Max that Max could inherit the bank if he promised to supply Aby with books in perpetuity Aby went on to become one of the leading art historians of the early 20th century while Max with a very large book bill took over the bank and became one of the leading commercial bankers of Weimar Germany Younger brothers Felix and Paul both married into a prominent Wall Street family and migrated to America Felix would become one of the leading Jewish philanthropists of the 20th century and today the neo gothic mansion which he had built for his own family on 5th Avenue is home to New York’s Jewish Museum Brother Paul was instrumental in the founding of the Federal Reserve and guided that institution through World War I The Alsterufer Warburgs faded from the scene after the death of their patriarch Siegmund and in fact lost much of their interest in the MM Warburg bank by the 1920s When Siegmund’s grandson Siegmund George arrived in Hamburg from rural southern Germany to do an internship at the MM Warburg bank in 1923 he was considered the country cousin who it was easy to look down upon uickly though he would establish himself as the smartest and most competent Warburg businessman of his generation Chernow spends the last uarter of the book charting his rise in very minute detail Of all the characters in the book it’s Siegmund the Younger alone who embodied the best of the entire family and ultimately his material success would overshadow that of his Mittelweg uncles and cousins It’s fitting then that Chernow does such a good job in his rendering of the man who would play such an influential role in turning London back into one of the world’s leading financial centers through his own SG Warburg BankThe family profiles are interesting sometimes humorous and do a good job of showing just how diverse one family can be but the real value in reading this book is found in some of the larger themes that span the entire narrative For me there were three First Chernow thoroughly documents the nearly unseverable tie between German Jews and Germany even despite recurrent anti Semitism and the tragedy of the Shoah The Warburgs profoundly loved German culture and thought it far superior to Anglo cultures Several Warburgs served in the German military before and during World War I Eric Warburg served in both world wars the first on the side of Germany the second for the United States After his service for the Americans he returned to Germany and eventually regained control of the MM Warburg Bank which was ‘aryanized’ in 1938 Chernow writes “The Warburgs never believed that the human spark entirely died among the German people and this gave them hope of a renewal someday”A second major theme which Chernow articulates is the way in which the material success of one generation distorts ambition in the subseuent generation None of the six second generation Mittelweg Warburgs four of whom met with so much success would see the next generation rise to their lofty heights While the dislocations owing to Hitler’s rise in Germany undoubtedly played a role the phenomena of under achievement held true even for that next generation of American born Warburgs While that generation still enjoyed privileged access to leading political and culture figures such as Franklin Roosevelt George Gershwin Adlai Stevenson Averell Harriman Chaim Weizmann Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Schmidt all of whom are mentioned in the book the children of the Mittelweg boys never rose to the lofty heights in finance philanthropy public service or scholarship that their fathers had Finally it was interesting to read about the growing secularization of the family over time The parents of Siegmund and Moritz born in the early 1800s were highly observant and refused to travel to places such as Scandinavia where they could not keep kosher Just three generations later the majority of the Warburg children would marry outside the faith and the family’s Judaism by the 1950s would seem almost incidental to their larger identities as heirs to a German banking family Another related theme that Chernow gives its due was the family’s complicated relationship with Zionism Very few in the family fully embraced Zionist political aims though after the founding of Israel most did support its goals A few family members made their homes in Israel but there was always a certain unease about the Israeli state and especially according to Chernow its treatment of its Arab populationBesides the larger themes that Chernow elucidates so thoroughly there are unfortunately a number of uirks that detract from the overall presentation First Chernow loves to read psychological traits and temporary dispositions into old photographs While some of his analyses are compelling the he engages in the habit the less convincing the enterprise feels Another strange thing that he uses perhaps to link the large number of characters that inevitably come out of an extended family over multiple generations is to combine the names of husband and wife pairs into a single word Thus we get absurdities such as Friedaflix Frieda and Felix Malice Max and Alice and Paulina Paul and Nina Chernow does include a family tree but it’s not complete perhaps owing to some parts of the living family’s wish to remain anonymous when the book was published in 1992 But there were also distant cousins mentioned especially from the Altona Warburgs and the Swedish Warburgs I would have liked an expanded family treeThose are minor complaints though Overall this is a really interesting book The time investment spent on it which is considerable is well worth it especially if you have in interest in German history banking and finance the gilded age “Our Crowd” or the human tragedy of Nazism I have to admit though after turning the last page I felt like I had closed the book on a small part of my own family that I had only recently come to know Jeffrey L Otto © May 3 2015

  10. Aaron Million Aaron Million says:

    Ron Chernow has gone on to have a prolific career as an author most recently with a biography of Ulysses S Grant But this book is one of his earlier successes Before Chernow switched to leading political figures he enmeshed himself in financial and banking history but from the personal side of things – focusing on the personalities that made and controlled large amounts of money rather than the system itself And so that is what the reader finds here in The Warburgs Chernow chronicles the rise and fall and rebirth of the famous German Jewish banking family alternating focus between different family membersUnfortunately there are so many family members involved here that it becomes difficult to keep track of them all For a significant portion of the book Chernow focuses on the brothers Aby Paul Felix and Max Another brother Fritz is not mentioned nearly as much despite also being a banker When I was finally getting comfortable remembering which brother did what and lived where the narrative changes to the offspring And then there is cousin Siegfried not to be confused with his grandfather of the same name While Chernow keeps the story moving it is dizzying at times to keep up with the adventures of all of the myriad Warburgs Throw in their wives and daughters many of them very strong personalities in their own spheres – indeed Chernow begins the book with a chapter on Sara Warburg and the changing locations Germany England Israel the United States Sweden and you almost need a written outline to help keep track of where you are Chernow takes to referring to the married couples as a mixture of both first names Malice for Max and Alice for example which I found somewhat annoying Fortunately Chernow does provide a family genealogy chart at the beginning of the book – I referred to this numerous times while reading it Despite the large cast of characters and places Chernow is a gifted storyteller and provides cogent analysis of all of the family drama that transpires In this case that primarily centers around the family's Jewish heritage Some members are hard core and believe it is blasphemy to marry a non Jewish person Others go out of their way to distance themselves from their Judaism and to act like it is an ordeal to be endured as indeed it sadly was for so many in Germany and other places Chernow reviews how the succeeding generations of the family gradually came to view their religion differently from the ones that came before This is most striking with the Warburgs born in the 1920s1930s The last section of the book is for me the least interesting It revolves mainly around Siegmund and Eric Warburg and tilted much towards Siegmund More so than most of the others Siegmund is ultimately a control freak and a tyrant – throwing telephones against the wall when he was angry amongst numerous other spectacles Chernow delves into Siegmund's numerous complicated business dealings thus bogging down the narrative as the reader struggles to keep one merger straight from the next Chernow is at his best when describing the buildups to both World Wars and how German society and attitudes affected the Warburgs It is sickening to read about how the Jews were treated especially when Hitler and the Third Reich came to power But Chernow writes that the jealousy and antagonism against Jews especially wealthy ones had not occurred overnight in Germany It was deep rooted and at times deadly for those who had no choice in how or what they were born as That the once great bank is almost completely ruined is no surprise That it somehow manages to hang on and then rebuild is a testament to the good stewardship and determination of a succession of Warburgs

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