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High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg [Paperback]

Niall Ferguson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2011

Niall Ferguson' High Financier tells the extraordinary story of Siegmund Warburg, the refugee from Nazi Germany who restored the Blitz-shattered City of London as the world's preeminent international financial centre.

Seared by events in the 1930s, when the long-established Warburg bank was first almost destroyed by the Depression and then 'Aryanized' by the Nazis, Siegmund Warburg was determined that his own bank would learn from the past and contribute to the economic recovery of Britain, the unity of Western Europe and the birth of globalization.

In recounting how this brilliant, scholarly man brought wit, passion and, above all, high ethical standards to the world of finance, Niall Ferguson shows how his meticulous methods were the antithesis of the debt-fuelled, speculative banking of our times.

'A fascinating portrait ... Beautifully paced, dramatically subtle and psychologically shrewd ... Warburg is an emblem of money as it ought to be, and now isn't'
  Bryan Appleyard, New Statesman

'Extensively researched and beautifully written'
  Spectator

'A timely, original and engaging biography'
  The Times

'Financially literate, extremely thorough, deploying dazzling breadth of cultural reference ... Ferguson has produced a fine historical biography'
  Mail on Sunday

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World and The Ascent of Money.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (1 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141022019
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141022017
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World and The Ascent of Money. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.

Product Description

Review

Beautifully paced, dramatically subtle and psychologically shrewd, this is Ferguson at his finest (Peter Stormonth Darling Spectator)

Ferguson is a talented writer, capable of grace and insight, but it is his ability as a historian that shows most strongly in High Financier (T. J. Stiles The Washington Post Sunday)

Its many finance lessons aside, High Financier is a pleasure to read simply as a work of literary skill. It is not only prodigiously researched but also splendidly written-clear and vivid and precise, perhaps even of enough merit to satisfy a word-stickler like Siegmund Warburg (Wall Street Journal)

A timely, original and engaging biography of Siegmund Warburg (Sathnam Sanghera The Times)

This book is both a notable contribution to economic history and a fascinating portrait (Geoffrey Owen Telegraph)

About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians and the author of a sequence of bestselling books, the most recent being The Ascent of Money and Civilization.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This panoramic biography of Siegmund Warburg reveals a complex man who built international banking in response to the great turbulence of the 20th century. Given access to previously unavailable personal letters and diaries, Niall Ferguson, a history professor at Harvard, spent 12 years profiling this singular man, who was shaped by early-20th-century Prussian Europe and lived through World War I, the rise of Nazism, the dark years of the Holocaust and post-World War II reconstruction. The book's title aptly describes Warburg's "lives," since he reinvented himself in the face of world and personal events. Ferguson artfully weaves Warburg's motives, business environment and family intrigues into the political evolution of Western Europe and the US. getAbstract highly recommends this detailed, readable biography of an extraordinary man.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important but disappointing person 1 April 2013
By dms
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Warburg was one of the great |bankers of his generation but nothing like as important as the writer portrays - I was there! His one great deal, the takeover of British Aluminium did change the City of London but that having been done the bank was no more than one of the more influential Merchant banks.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rich Biography 12 July 2010
By Kirk H Sowell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ferguson's biography of Siegmund Warburg will be of strong interest for readers who find financial news interesting and are looking for a broader perspective on the geopolitics of finance, in particular Britain and the European bond market. It will surely be of less interest to general readers, especially American readers, than some of Ferguson's writings on more contemporary issues, and frankly would not be selling so well were the author someone other than Mr. Ferguson.

"High Financier" can be divided into three parts based on the word "Lives" in the subtitle. The first "life" of Siegmund Warburg was his German one, from 1902-1933, covered in the first 90 pages of the book. His second "life" was his "Anglo-American" life - this runs from 1934 through the 1950s, or about page 200 in the book. The focus here is on Warburg's efforts at increasing transatlantic financial ties. The remainder of the book, slightly more than half, includes his "Anglo-German" life, or his work from the 1950s through his death in 1982 which primarily focused on European integration.

That first part will be of most interest to readers interested in German history and the interwar period. One intriguing point is what Ferguson describes as Warburg's ambivalent feelings toward the Nazi rise to power. As an educated German Jew he was of course repelled by their anti-Semitism and thuggish manner. Yet Warburg's diary and correspondence show that elements of the Nazi program appealed to him. This appears to be because as a life-long man of the political left, Warburg felt a strong attraction to collectivist policy and hostility for the decadence of the bourgeoisie, and thus hoped a coalition government including them might do some good. Ferguson's point is that if even someone like Warburg could fail to understand the Nazis' true nature until 1934, we should be more understanding of people in other countries who took even longer.

Ferguson goes to some effort to portray Warburg as an active opponent of the Nazis once he fully realized the threat, but he tries too hard. He claims Warburg to have been "an ardent opponent of the policy of appeasement," but cites no public anti-Hitler statements prior to 1939. All of the footnotes cite his diary and private correspondence. Indeed, during the 1934-1939 period Warburg traveled to Germany regularly for business, and was never bothered by the regime. All his family had left the country except two uncles who had chosen to stay to maintain the family business. Maybe it was because he didn't become a British citizen until 1939, or maybe he was concerned about his uncles. But despite all the talk about "spiritual values," it is hard not to suspect that Warburg's life priorities were no different than those of any other banker.

In regard to Warburg's "Anglo-American" life, he spent some time in the U.S. at a young age in the late 1920s, before the crash, and with part of the Warburg family firmly established in New York. He considered first going there, but after moving to London in 1934 he was heavily involved in cross-Atlantic finance before his focus moved back toward the continent.

Warburg's third life, taking up just over half the book, is his Anglo-German life. I say that - and this is a term Ferguson uses himself - because while living in the UK is business focused primarily on European finance and the need for greater integration. Whether Warburg was as important as Ferguson claims, I don't know enough about British financial history 1945-1980 to judge. But he portrays Warburg as the father of the hostile takeover in Britain, and as key to the rise of the Eurobond market and to London's revival as a financial center generally.

Warburg does seem to have been a master of business management. Ferguson devotes significant space to Warburg correspondence on the principles of a banker's work and good management practices. I won't go into that here, but readers interested in business philosophy may find these segments fruitful.

Warburg was also a strategic visionary. Ferguson consistently portrays him as being ahead of his contemporaries when it comes to business and finance. But he also presents him as being farsighted in geo-strategic terms, foreseeing the synthesis of Kennan's containment and Kissinger's détente. In 1954 Warburg wrote that the keys to victory were "building up the strength of the Western allies, second, raising the standard of living in the East (particularly in South-East Asia), and third, by a relaxation of tension..."
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Who, What, Where, When, How, But No Why 2 Aug 2010
By Thomas M. Sullivan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As I wrote in a review of one of Professor Ferguson's other works, I believe it impossible for him to write a boring book. But he's given it a good shot here. Recognizing that Warburg was a financial pioneer in many respects, author of the first British hostile takeover, the progenitor of the Eurobond, and the man generally credited with restoring the City of London to its pre-World War II stature as an international financial center, he is also a surpassingly uninteresting subject for a lengthy biography. As colorless as his custom-made business clothing, as indifferent to his wife and children as he was to any activity, except reading, not directly related to his financial endeavors, the Professor's very best efforts to highlight, or, indeed, winkle out, his human side are largely unavailing. True, he held himself and his firm's underlings to the highest business standards, and the book's extensive discussions of the intramural squabbles and power plays within his London and other offices make for some interesting reading for those of us intrigued by management politics. Also intriguing in this regard, though not perhaps a business practice to be emulated, was his tendency to make enduring snap judgments about managerial prospects, once forming an instant skepticism about a candidate who consumed too many peanuts at a cocktail party! True, too, that he was widely read, at least in German authors, and applied the teachings of Freud and others to his daily and business lives. Also true that among his quirky beliefs was an unshakeable confidence in graphology, that is, personality assessment using hand writing samples. But that's about it. Not only would you probably not want him for a friend, but you'd never get to that issue because he almost certainly would not want you. Perhaps most ironically, he neither amassed a great fortune himself nor succeeded in making his firm the top player in the City's financial hierarchy.

Having said all that, I certainly did learn something about the business and national financial events of the period covered and this will undoubtedly come in handy in other readings. But learning about financial history is usually a bloodless endeavor, and the Professor's choice of this subject as a biographical vessel for an account of the times only reinforces that perception. Got the rest: the `why' eludes me.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My first boss 6 Dec 2010
By Michael A. Warren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I worked for Siegmund Warburg and his firm. He was a great financier and a classicist as well. He took books with him on vacation and read and reread them. He lived on Eaton Square in London and his firm was at 30 Gresham St.
He revitalized London as a banking center after the war and orchestrated the takeover of British Aluminum, first hostile takeover in Britain. His partners were concerned since it flew in the face of City practice. However it resulted in a great deal of new business for the firm. Though I don't rememember it being in the book, he alway insisted on turquoise ink for signing his letters.

The book recounts Sir Siegmund's interest in graphology. I had to write an essay to be hired which presumably was sent to his graphologist.

He originated the eurobond market which helped make London a financial center.

It is a fascinating biography about a extraordinary man.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sir Siegmund Warburg: A Seminal Figure in Investment Banking 20 July 2010
By Jeffrey H. Lynford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sir Siegmund Warburg was a seminal figure in the renaissance of post-war UK finance. He was a pioneer of the Euro-Yen market and one of the last great "relationship" bankers. As a young banker at Warburg Paribas Becker in New York, I was heavily influenced by his approach to working with clients and colleagues. Many of my closest friendships today are the result of relationships formed while working at the firm which bore his name. He cautioned all of his colleagues to be careful with their personal reputations, because "Trust Capital" was the hardest to replenish.

Ferguson's book may draw a smaller audience in the U.S. because Sir Siegmund's reputation is less well-know here. Nevertheless the lessons to be drawn from Sir Siegmund's efforts are as relevant today as they were when he was teaching them by example 50 years ago.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great bio and financial history 13 Aug 2013
By Gderf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In his preface Ferguson makes a sort of apology for writing about a somewhat obscure financier, as more readers prefer their history to be about rulers or important political figures. Actually I prefer that reading myself, but bending my bias to read this book was well rewarded.

The book starts with the background of Warburg's wealthy family which was not as financially important as the Rothschilds. It covers family connections as well as political connections in Germany, Britain and the US. Siegmund George Warburg basically dual career pre-war and post-war, starting under the influence of his uncles in family branches in Germany and the USA. The book describes his struggles to become independent of his family.

In addition to financial analysis, it's also a very fine political history of the twentieth century based on Warburg's, not always accurate, political insights. He made an accurate assessment of Hitler's character, but was politically wrong in the belief that the regime would not last. Ultimately he saw the light and left Hamburg for London at great financial sacrifice. Its interesting to learn that none of Warburg's extensive close family was lost in the holocaust. There's his interesting view of Brits as inefficient, especially due to social bias. Some questions remain. Ferguson doesn't explore why Britain accommodated Warburg's desire for British citizenship while rejecting so many other European emigrates. Was it simply an issue of money and connections?

In business he was noted for possibly first ever hostile takeover attempt, Warburg advised on the 1959 British Aluminium takeover with Reynolds, in opposition to Alcoa and other suitors.
Warburg was devoted to free trade, had a Germany based fear of inflation and insisted on liquidity in his investments. Also interesting is the somewhat earlier career of an influential relative of SGW, Paul Warburg, who insisted that the Fed not be called a central bank.

For his politics the book describes SGWs associations with Brunig, vonPapen, Schliecher and other German luminaries in the pre Hitler era. Ferguson points to Schacht's enthusiasm for Hitler. I wonder how valid that is. Perhaps disillusionment followed after Warburg was gone.
He greatly favored the Marshall Plan and deplored Eden's "reckless adventure" in the Suez in 1956. Warburg later advised Harold Wilson and other British PMs and ministers. He was an early advocate of European unification, advising on formation of the EEC. He observed Britain destroying upper and middle classes with ferocious taxation. US growth declined by 1% in the 1970s. The crisis of 1973 brought disillusionment with American politics.

Ferguson descibes the long failed assocation with Koehn Loeb which eventually merged with Lehman Brothers in 1977. After some initial success after SGW's death in 1982 the firm enjoyed some success before succumbing to a general decline of British merchant banking. Today the firm survives as Warburg-Pincus.

SGW associated with literary figures as well as businessmen and bankers. He liked to hire people who shared his literary and philosophical bents. He lunched often with Isaiah Berlin.
He wanted to hire Henry Kissinger. Except for Margaret Thatcher and SGW's graphologist there are no women mentioned. The book doesn't analyze his viewpoint on women in the workplace.

The book gets somewhat repetitive and tiresome on corporate dealings and banking activities.
It's sometimes hard to gauge the importance of the action. There are only occasional interesting characters like Milo Cripps, son of Sir Stafford. There's a listing of SGW's aphorisms. My favorite is "wishful non-thinking." It's very applicable in all eras. He was noted as a perpetual pessimist

Ultimately Ferguson makes Warburg out to be no more or less than a successful banker, ambivalently calling him a nineteenth century German trapped in twentieth century England. In being a German Jewish financier emigrating to become influential in London, Ferguson compares him to Nathan Rothschild, a century earlier.

The book is typical of Ferguson in his use of extensive research to support his historical and financial acumen in great detail.
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