Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family

Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family

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by Ron Chernow

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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…  See more details below


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 enemy.

Ron 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In chronicling ``the oldest continuously active banking family in the world,'' Chernow ( The House of Morgan ) tells a rich, sprawling story of personality, commerce and history. From their origins as 16th-Century ``Court Jews'' in North Germany, the Warburg family and its business rose with the unification of Germany and the expanding global economy; two sons married into New York City's German-Jewish ``Our Crowd.'' Both in Germany and in the United States, the Warburgs maintained the ``Panglossian'' outlook of loyalty to country and religion; Kris tall nacht finally pushed them from their bank and from their Hamburg base into the Diaspora. The book encompasses the Warburgs' role in Anglo-American World War II spying, the establishment of a family securities firm in Great Britain and the postwar return of the Warburgs to Hamburg. Granted access to family files, Chernow shifts between continents, telling of many lives with depth and detail. So many mini-biographies, however, sometimes obscure the author's stated goal of limning the evolution of German Jewry through the Warburgs. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Chernow's saga traces the fortunes of the influential German-Jewish banking family from its generation of great wealth, stimulated by the Franco-Prussian War, through the family's defamation and degradation by the Nazis, and its subsequent return to Hamburg following World War II. In the United States, family members married and joined forces with the Schiffs and Loebs at the beginning of the century. While Chernow ( The House of Morgan , LJ 2/1/90) discusses serious, diverse themes such as international finance, the misplaced loyalty of German Jews to a country that betrayed them, and the relationship of succeeding generations of Warburgs to their Jewish roots, the book is filled with trivia and family gossip. Chernow had access to private family papers, and the conflicting descriptions of the numerous personalities of this prolific family confuse and overwhelm the reader. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/93.-- Carol R. Glatt, VA Medical Ctr. Lib., Philadelphia
David Rouse
Chernow has already masterfully portrayed one banking dynasty in his sweeping, acclaimed "House of Morgan" (1990). Now he similarly chronicles the saga of another of the world's most powerful and oldest banking families. In telling this monumental tale of the Warburgs, Chernow offers a panoramic view of nearly 500 years of world history, concentrating on the role of Jews in German business, culture, and politics from the time of Kaiser Wilhelm to that of Adolf Hitler. He also explains how the Warburgs extended their influence to America by marrying into two influential families--the Schiffs and Loebs, both powerful brokerage house and investment banking clans. Chernow's massive work is nearly double the combined volume of two books already devoted to the Warburgs: Eduard Rosenbaum and A. J. Sherman's "M. M. Warburg & Co., 1798-1939: Merchant Bankers of Hamburg" (1979) and David Farrer's "The Warburgs: The Story of a Family" (1975). This important book, however, is about much more than banking and finances; in Chernow's own words, "it dramatizes the emergence of the Jewish people in the modern world."
Kirkus Reviews
From the National Book Award-winning author of The House of Morgan (1990): an engrossing history of the Hamburg banking family that explores the love/hate relationship between Germany and its native-born Jews with as much interest as it recounts the lives of those who made Warburg a name to be reckoned with on both sides of the Atlantic. Drawing on unrestricted access to members of the extended family and their voluminous archives, Chernow offers a start-to- present chronicle. Tracing the line from the mid-16th century, he reviews how canon and secular law shunted the era's Jews into trade or moneylending. By 1773, however, the patriarch's descendants were able to settle in the thriving port of Hamburg, where they put down deep roots and established themselves as world-class bankers. In the meantime, the family tree developed branches whose scions competed as vigorously among themselves as with outsiders. Tracking the varied fortunes of Warburgs through Bismarck's Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and beyond, Chernow documents how intermarriage with Our Crowd's Loebs and Schiffs enabled the Warburgs to make their mark on Wall Street as well as in Europe. A notable case in point was Paul M. Warburg, a driving force behind the FRB's 1913 creation. In like vein, WW II drove Siegmund Warburg to London, where he became a postwar power in The City. Other Warburgs distinguished themselves in the arts, philanthropy, and government service, as well as in business, mingling with the likes of Balfour, Einstein, Gershwin, von Papen, FDR, Kaiser Wilhelm II, et al. In an outcome that affords his panoramic narrative an affecting measure of unity, Chernow details thetransaction whereby a latter-day generation reclaimed the merchant bank where their own story began. A lively, definitive, and thoughtful account of a clan whose star has waxed as that of its Rothschild rivals has waned. (Thirty- two photographs—not seen)

From the Publisher
"Splendid.... Chernow does a wonderful job fleshing out the lives of the major characters in this family drama."

— Wall Street Journal

"[Ron Chernow] has surpassed himself in this absorbing chronicle."

— The New Yorker

"This is grand-scale scholarship .... It is all here, along with so much of the painful, tumultuous history of our time, all in one splendid book."

— David McCullough, author of Truman

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Random House Publishing Group
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1st Edition

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Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ron Chernow narrates with panache the riveting tribulations of the Warburgs, a prominent Jewish banking dynasty emerging in Germany in the sixteenth century. The author does an outstanding job in switching back and forth between the Alsterufer Warburgs and the Mittelweg Warburgs, the two rivaling branches of the Warburgs. Ron Chernow indeed vividly recasts the numerous actors of that saga against the economic, political and social backdrop of their time. The author brilliantly helps his readers understand the painful dilemma that many German Jews, keener and keener on assimilation into Germany, faced especially under the Weimar Republic and then under Nazism. Ron Chernow also underlines how several Warburgs emigrating outside Germany had a positive influence on the unfolding of some key domestic and overseas events. Ironically, M.M. Warburg & Co., the German cradle of the banking dynasty that Nazism and then internal infighting almost torpedoed with success, is the only one to remain independent today. M.M. Warburg & Co. is Germany¿s second largest private bank. S.G. Warburg is now part of Union Bank of Switzerland while Warburg Pincus, successor of E.M. Warburg, belongs to Credit Suisse.
Kattomic More than 1 year ago
This biography of a family reads like one of those big, fat, family sagas they used to make miniseries out of . Its cast of "characters" is vast and every one of them is memorable. This is an engrossing read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago