Rothschild's Villa Ephrussi
It's true that some books written by historians have a boring language that can even assure the author an unpleasant or embarrasing nickname. Such is not the case of David Landes, however; with his electric texts, the professor emeritus of Economics at Harvard University disentangles the change prossesses almost subverting histographical tradition by not even mentioning the countless evolutionary-explanatory models in History.
The book Dynasties presents 13 rough sketches on big family enterprises, from banking, to automobiles, to iron, to oil, to mining. Some are the old familiar cases, and are well-known to anyone that is in the least interested in History, such as the Fords, the Rockefellers and the Toyodas (Toyota).
Landes crosses the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, diving into the events that converted each of these families into true empires - some of them have since collapsed, like the Barings - in a gripping text that takes us to every continent, every fortune social cycle, to scandals, laziness, wars, arrogance and condescension, showing the power and influence these families had over some nations, be it through direct negotiations with governments and emperors, through loans, subventions or monopolies; or through successes or bankrupcies, able to influence the lives of thousands of people, directly or indirectly, envolved with a certain company.
An enterprising spirit, the overcoming of obstacles and sheer luck are a part of each of these stories: Rothschild, Morgan, Baring, Ford, Agnelli, Guggenheim, Toyota, Walton, Peugeot, Renault, Rockefeller... They are all bound together by these elements and each has their own trajectory, known as strategy, that sometimes leaves us baffled: the idea we get is that business, in our time, tends to get broader. Then, how do family enterprises control 70% to 90% of all of world's enterprises? That's exactly the book's biggest tease: it seems like classical liberal strategies can't hold themselves against certain tradicionalist strategies, based on social relationships of trust that exist (or should exist) in a family. In the same way the free and equal competition is a necessary illusion.
A classic example of these social and family relationships is the Rothschilds. Before dying, Rothschild Mayer Amschel left a will in which it was expressed that every member of the family should marry their own cousins, in first or second degrees, keeping their large fortune within the family. This rule was obeyed at first and business flourished, as well as family judaism. However, later on, other jewish businesses grew, some became dissidents and everything slowed down. These sorts of marriages seem to be crucial to the maintenance of family enterprises.
Just like a storyteller, David Landes makes us watch to the epic creation of Standart Oil, the meteoric rise of the Ford Motor Company, the influence of the Citröens and the Peugeauts, the iron hand of ol' Walton that sustains the massive Wal-Mart... These amongst numerous "backstage peeks" that are satirically commented by the author, who ensures us a gripping and interesting read.
Dynasties on Amazon.UK