Title: Gentlemen Bankers: The World of J.P. Morgan
Author: Susie J. Pak
Publisher: Harvard (£40.95)
Dr Pak is an assistant professor of history at St John’s University – a Catholic school in New York, better known for its basketball
team. And this is (obviously) a bulked-up rehash of her PhD dissertation – with lots and lots of end-notes, promiscuous use of quotation marks, and plenty of evidence that she will write a better book one day. (Note: “normative” does not mean “normal”.)
The premise is interesting. The white-shoe, WASP House of Morgan (she says, though I am a bit sceptical) has never before been seen in its social context – and has never been weighed against the social context in which its German-Jewish competitors (epitomised here by Kuhn, Loeb) operated. Who married whom? Where did they live? Who were their friends? And what clubs
did they belong to? No surprise, really, that WASPs married WASPs – and, at least for the first generation, that German Jews married German Jews. No surprise either that there wasn’t much social intercourse between them – though the focus on the exclusionary policies of the WASP clubs that Morgan partners frequented is not matched by similar information on Kuhn, Loeb. What clubs did the Schiffs, Kahns and Warburgs join? And would they have been much happier to let the Leffingwells and Bacons in? Oh, and what about the Catholics?
Pak is greatly (and perhaps rightly) exercised about the fact that, though Morgan and Kuhn, Loeb cooperated extensively in domestic and international financings, they did not mix out of school – and that both were nasty to women. (And to blacks – though the evidence presented here only relates to Morgan partners, which seems a bit unfair.) But there is nary a word about the
fact that Catholics got done over by both sides. Or, for that matter, that German Jews were pretty sniffy about Polish and Russian Jews – particularly as immigration increased in the 1920s and 1930s.
Still, I learned a lot. The Kuhn, Loeb partners, for instance, spoke German – and thought of themselves as German, even though Otto Kahn actually had British citizenship at the beginning of the Great War. I did not know that Jack Morgan (who seems to have been a Grade A hypocrite on just about every count) was shot and wounded by a crazed German-American fanatic, which might leave one a tad anti-German. And, of course, there are the Pujo and Pecora hearings, which have considerable contemporary resonance as we find ourselves going through another bout of anti-bank hysteria.
Like any doctoral thesis of the last 40 years, there are acres of soft-core socio-babble (about gender and race, in particular) that one has to wade through – though the 114 pages of notes mean that the main text is actually quite short. And it is certainly a book that makes one think. The pity is that the questions it raises are, by and large, not ones that it answers. Still, I have no doubt that the sociology of American (and British) banking will prove fertile ground for many books in future years. It is a start.