In this short biography of Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), historian and journalist Amos Elon describes how the founder of the Rothschild dynasty started out by dealing in rare coins and traveling across Germany while still confined, as a Frankfurt Jew, to its Judengasse. Assisted by his five skilled sons, Rothschild subsequently built up a fortune by helping manage the investments of the Landgrave of Hesse, circumventing Napoleon’s blockade of England and funding Napoleon’s eventual defeat.
“This slim, charming volume is actually a biographical essay, yet it succeeds in snatching its elusive subject from oblivion.” — Ron Chernow, The New York Times
“This is a fascinating story.” — The New York Review of Books
“A memorable first biography of a near-mythical founding father.” — Publishers Weekly
“A thoroughly researched, fascinating, and altogether exemplary biography.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Amos Elon’s portrait of the man who fathered a dynasty makes fascinating reading for anyone even mildly interested in money and power and their effects on history. Founder is a rich and colorful examination of [Meyer Amschel Rothschild]” — Morley Safer
“Elon’s book... is a thoroughly researched and absorbing biography.” — St. Louis Jewish Light
“A biography that’s a must read for today’s entrepreneurs.” — Houston Chronicle
"Well, nobody gets anything for nothing," Mayer Amschel Rothschild wrote from Frankfurt to his 19-year-old son Jacob (soon to be James) in Paris. Learning his lessons well, the brilliant, energetic Jacob would outwit Napoleon's fiscal watchdogs, bankroll his nemesis, Wellington, to the immense profit of the Rothschilds and assist in the undoing of Bonapartist France. The elder Rothschild, born in Frankfurt's crowded, rank Judengasse ghetto in which he lived all his life, would leave his five indefatigable sons his vast fortune and his even vaster pride. Much of his correspondence and papers have disappeared; in 1938, the Nazis even attempted to destroy his tombstone, and the crescent of tenements in which he lived and worked with his shrewd, sturdy wife, Guttle, burned in several conflagrations. No portrait of him exists. Yet out of what survives in documentation and in the memories of contemporaries, Jerusalem-based journalist Elon (Herzl: A Biography) has reconstructed the remarkable life of the creator of a banking empire that flourished despite a pervasive anti-Semitism that denied Frankfurt Jews even the right to leave their walled-in dwellings at night. Born in 1744, Rothschild began as a teenage dealer in foreign coins and later branched into every aspect of money exchange, financing sovereigns, merchants and armies. Posting his sons to other financial centers, he had established, by his death in 1812, a European banking empire. Filling in documentary gaps with 57 evocative illustrations, many of them contemporary, Elon has fashioned a brief but memorable first biography of a near-mythical founding father.