The French Rothschilds: The Great Banking Dynasty Through Two Turbulent Centuries

Herbert R. Lottman, Author Crown Publishing Group (NY) $9.99 (396p) ISBN 978-0-517-59229-8
Lottman, until now primarily a literary biographer with books on Camus, Flaubert and Colette, widens his focus here to embrace a huge subject over a colossal time span: the banking family, originating in a Frankfurt ghetto, that came to great financial power in Napoleonic France and has retained it through extraordinary vicissitudes to the present day. The Rothschilds, Lottman shows, were politically canny, utterly trustworthy, remarkably clannish (it was unthinkable, during their first century, for them to marry outside the family, let alone outside the Jewish faith) and successful in dozens of endeavors beyond banking, from railroads to horse racing to winemaking in several countries including England, the United States and Israel. Several times their adopted France turned against them. They were calumniated by a fiercely anti-Semitic press in the late 19th century (watching aghast as the Dreyfus case became a national scandal). Anticapitalist Communist threats shadowed them in the Popular Front period of the 1930s. The Nazis and the Vichy government competed to see who could seize their wealth and artistic treasures, while the family scattered around the world, to London and New York City. A Socialist French government in 1981 again nationalized the Rothschilds' holdings, and only in recent years have the original family's many offspring come to terms with a still vigorous but shrunken empire. Lottman tells all this with an abundance of detail, a keen sense of period and an awesome grasp of the family's many personages and complex financial structure. If his story lacks the enlivening, humanizing anecdote, this can probably be blamed on his reticent subjects. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
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