cover image Jewish Space Lasers: The Rothschilds and 200 Years of Conspiracy Theories

Jewish Space Lasers: The Rothschilds and 200 Years of Conspiracy Theories

Mike Rothschild. Melville House, $28.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-685-89064-3

Journalist Rothschild (The Storm Is Upon Us) delves into the swirl of antisemitic rumors that have surrounded the Rothschild banking dynasty since the 18th century in this tenacious inquiry. Rothschild, who is of no relation to his subjects, shows how Mayer Rothschild’s unprecedented financial success while living in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt, coupled with his sons’ founding of equally successful financial businesses in London, Naples, Paris, and Vienna, became a focus of antisemitic hatred in the 18th and 19th centuries. Among other myths, Rothschild debunks the idea that the family profited off early knowledge, transmitted to London via a network of family agents, about the outcome the Battle of Waterloo by purchasing depressed British government bonds and thus making a fortune when news of the victory reached the public at large. The author not only discounts the more obviously antisemitic embellishments found in some versions of the story but disproves that the entire incident, which is still recounted in popular histories, took place at all. Rothschild focuses on how a “conspiracy theory industry” has grown around the family, beginning with anonymous 18th-century pamphleteers, but also reveals how more legitimate sources have created narratives that formed the foundation of later conspiracies; for example, the author points out that several anti-Rothschild tropes may have originated with Honore de Balzac, who satirized his patron James de Rothschild repeatedly in his work. The result is a patient and painstaking invalidation of antisemitism that also highlights its perniciousness. (Sept.)