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Morgan: American Financier
by Jean Strouse
ISBN 0375501665 / 9780375501661 / 0-375-50166-5
Publisher Random House
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As Americans cope with the social and industrial changes wrought by the computer age, we seem ready to view with more sympathy the men who shaped the similarly disruptive economic revolution at the turn of the last century. Less than a year after Titan, Ron Chernow's sweeping biography of capitalist par excellence John D. Rockefeller, comes Jean Strouse's searching analysis of J.P. Morgan (1837-1913), the merchant banker whose financial prowess enabled the great American businesses to grow and thrive. Like Chernow, Strouse takes a nuanced view of a man reviled by his contemporaries as a sinister monopolist. Morgan sought to stabilize the volatile American economy and raise the cash needed to fuel its meteoric expansion. His methods were controversial, particularly his fondness for industrial "combinations" that dampened competition, but Strouse's lucid résumé of the historical backdrop illuminates the thinking behind Morgan's actions. As in her groundbreaking biography Alice James, the author never settles for received wisdom, instead reading previously neglected documents with a sharp eye to offer a fresh interpretation. She vividly limns Morgan's imperious personality and such extracurricular interests as his superb art collection. But it's Strouse's ability to clearly convey complex financial material that distinguishes this book. Her chapter on the panic of 1907, which Morgan was instrumental in halting, is as exciting as a good thriller and far more instructive. --Wendy Smith [via]