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In this groundbreaking biography, based on more than 10,000 hitherto unavailable letters and diary entries, Niall Ferguson returns to his roots as a financial historian to tell the story of the extraordinary Siegmund Warburg.
A refugee from Hitler's Germany, Warburg rose to become the dominant figure in the post-war City of London and one of the architects of European financial integration. 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, 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.
Siegmund Warburg was a complex and ambivalent man, as much a psychologist, politician and actor-manager as a banker. In High Financier Niall Ferguson reveals Warburg's idiosyncracies but above all he recaptures the meticulous business methods and strict ethical code that set Warburg apart from the mere speculators and traders who inhabit today's financial world.
Siegmund Warburg (1902 1982), scion of a Jewish banking dynasty, fled Nazi Germany to London, where he became a leading banker and an informal economic adviser to prime ministers but his importance doesn't shine through this unfocused biography. Financial historian Ferguson (The Ascent of Money) styles him a financial innovator (he engineered Britain's first hostile takeover), a pioneer of European economic integration (he helped invent the Eurobond), a "prophet of globalization," a paragon of fiscal rectitude whose principles could have helped us avoid the current economic mess, and a deep thinker about international affairs. Unfortunately, Ferguson doesn't make a compelling argument for his subject's significance. Laymen will find his sketchy treatment of Warburg's feats of "high finance" rather opaque and his case for Warburg the humanist and intellectual weak (and undermined by his subject's obsession with handwriting analysis). Ferguson uses Warburg's life as a window onto European unification and Britain's postwar economic malaise, but his account, which is constantly distracted by deal making and office politics at Warburg's banking partnership, is too unsystematic to do these topics justice. The view from Warburg's lofty perch doesn't make for a discerning perspective on the world around him.