I cannot explain how impossibly weird it is to mention that my interest in this book comes explicitly from Real Housewives of New York. Sonja Morgan married one of the Morgan heirs when he was already fairly old and she was still fairly young. At the beginning of the show, she’s a few years divorced, but is still the beneficiary of that connection. She’s also clearly very damaged from the divorce, or least fragile. The story more or less goes that when her husband was having a health scare, she wasn’t as available to him as he would have liked and that led to a downfall in their marriage. They have a daughter together, hence the connection. But more so, Sonja is still enthralled with the Morgans as a dynasty (among other things, keeping the name).
But I don’t known ANYTHING about them at all. I don’t really understand who they were, what they did, why they were rich or influential, or even what they looked like. If you asked me to think of Rockefellers, Hearst, Carnegie or Vanderbilt, I do have an image of them. Needless to say after reading this book, I do know at least what JP Morgan (Pierpont Morgan) looks like, because he does have a striking profile (big nose).
I also know more about the story behind the family. This book is called the House of Morgan because Morgan is a namesake for several different financial institutions and covers several generations of family. The first era is the creation of the dynasty, not even by a Morgan, but a Peabody who would eventually bequeath control of the business to the Morgans who would turn it into what it became. The Morgans were only ever offensively rich, never deeply, offensively and horribly rich like a Rockefeller. They are partly who Scrooge and Marley’s jobs are drawn from (not the actual characters, but the stations in the economy) as private financiers who have a lot of control and influence over markets, but as the book argues, that’s because when they were developed, banks were strong while companies were weak. So by private lending they had a lot of power.
It’s an interesting book that eventually becomes a history of 20th finance (at least through 1989) and that’s good enough. I was sort of clamoring for The Power Broker, but Ron Chernow is now Robert Caro, and the Morgans are not Robert Moses.
I will say one last thing: JP Morgan destroyed decades worth of letters between him and his older brother, so a huge record of that era is lost. And what would Sonja say about that?