High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg

Niall Ferguson, Penguin Press, $35 (560p) ISBN 978-1-59420-246-9
Siegmund Warburg (1902–1982), scion of a Jewish banking dynasty, fled Nazi Germany to London, where he became a leading banker and an informal economic adviser to prime ministers—but his importance doesn’t shine through this unfocused biography. Financial historian Ferguson (The Ascent of Money) styles him a financial innovator (he engineered Britain’s first hostile takeover), a pioneer of European economic integration (he helped invent the Eurobond), a “prophet of globalization,” a paragon of fiscal rectitude whose principles could have helped us avoid the current economic mess, and a deep thinker about international affairs. Unfortunately, Ferguson doesn’t make a compelling argument for his subject’s significance. Laymen will find his sketchy treatment of Warburg’s feats of “high finance” rather opaque and his case for Warburg the humanist and intellectual weak (and undermined by his subject’s obsession with handwriting analysis). Ferguson uses Warburg’s life as a window onto European unification and Britain’s postwar economic malaise, but his account, which is constantly distracted by deal making and office politics at Warburg’s banking partnership, is too unsystematic to do these topics justice. The view from Warburg’s lofty perch doesn’t make for a discerning perspective on the world around him. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/03/2010
Release date: 06/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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