The Warburgs


9780525431831“Tsundoku” is the Japanese word for buying books and subsequently allowing piles to form, instead of immediately reading them. I like to think of it as a necessary step in the reading process, similar to fermentation in wine production. Thus I sometimes justify the chaos by telling myself that the more time the book spends in a pile, the better it will be when finally consumed.

Chernow’s “The Warburgs” is a good example as was published 24 years ago and worth the wait. It’s an amazing chronicle of a German Jewish banking family and as with any story about Germany, this history contains many disturbing stories that are is difficult to read about the way the country turned so viciously on a people who contributed so much to their Fatherland. The family started off in Warburg but moved near Hamburg (Jews were not allowed to live in Hamburg) and then in late 1700s to Hamburg where they founded a bank. The bank became well-known and very successful because of talent and timing. Family members possessed great financial acumen and they utilized these skills during the prosperous years of late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is plenty of internecine melodrama as the family split into two branches and then some members migrated to the US and through marriage merged with the Kuhn Loeb banking powerhouse. The most important aspect of this book is less the exploration of individual family members and their idiosyncrasies and more the fact that the story of this one family is somewhat representative of what happened to the larger group of German Jews (with some exceptions, for instance, most of the Warburgs were able to flee Nazi Germany because they could buy their way out). Although I really enjoyed this book, “Hamilton” is still my favorite Chernow, with “Titan” in second place.

Nicole Charbonnet


3 Responses to “The Warburgs”

  1. Nicole, I just finished listening to 56 hours of THE WARBURGS and then, yesterday, spent 2 hours with Ron Chernow at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. I had a hard time with this book as I kept seeing today’s America in 1938 Germany and it even more upset me………we live a half mile down the block from Mar a Lago.

    Meanwhile, I agree with you about the tale and the deep dive into this history. I also agree with you about Hamilton as Chernow’s best history book and Titan as his best financial book.

    I loved Titan as a way to look at the history of the time through the lens of John D. Rockefeller.

    Chernow is really terrific…..and worth the 20+ year wait for the wine to mellow.


  2. agree on the similarities + i had many moments of deja vu/horror reading warburgs. spending 2 hours with chernow sounds wonderful.
    i’d want to ask him if he sees a common thread through his books.

  3. His next book is about Ulysses Grant and the common thread through his books is his research. He’s maniacal. Once he’s digested his research, he can write.

    I watched the PBS program on Hamilton and saw the level of detail in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s research. What a thrill to touch (kind of) Hamilton’s papers. Well, that’s what Ron Chernow does all the time.

    Have you read “The Island in the Center of the World”? Talk about a fabulous read!!!

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