“A colorful introduction to one of the most influential businessmen in history” (The New York Times Book Review), Jacob Fugger—the Renaissance banker “who wrote the playbook for everyone who keeps score with money” (Bryan Burrough, author of Days of Rage).
In the days when Columbus sailed the ocean and Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, a German banker named Jacob Fugger became the richest man in history.
Fugger lived in Germany at the turn of the sixteenth century, the grandson of a peasant. By the time he died, his fortune amounted to nearly two percent of European GDP. In an era when kings had unlimited power, Fugger dared to stare down heads of state and ask them to pay back their loans—with interest. It was this coolness and self-assurance, along with his inexhaustible ambition, that made him not only the richest man ever, but a force of history as well. Before Fugger came along it was illegal under church law to charge interest on loans, but he got the Pope to change that. He also helped trigger the Reformation and likely funded Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. His creation of a news service gave him an information edge over his rivals and customers and earned Fugger a footnote in the history of journalism. And he took Austria’s Habsburg family from being second-tier sovereigns to rulers of the first empire where the sun never set.
“Enjoyable…readable and fast-paced” (The Wall Street Journal), The Richest Man Who Ever Lived is more than a tale about the most influential businessman of all time. It is a story about palace intrigue, knights in battle, family tragedy and triumph, and a violent clash between the one percent and everybody else. “The tale of Fugger’s aspiration, ruthlessness, and greed is riveting” (The Economist).
Steinmetz, a securities analyst and former journalist, reveals the untold story of history's "first documented millionaire": 16th-century German banker Jacob Fugger. Born into an Augsburg textile family and apprenticed in Venice to learn the trade, young Fugger also picked up the basics of banking before moving on to mining and spices. However, his important contributions to history revolve around loans: funding conquests by Maximilian of Hapsburg, orchestrating the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and providing Maximilian's successor, Charles, with "the biggest loan the world had ever seen" for his campaign to be emperor. Fugger is further credited with destroying the Hanseatic League and organizing a debate that led to Pope Leo lifting the ban on usury. Steinmetz argues that Fugger also indirectly sparked the Protestant Reformation by accepting indulgence money as loan payments. When a peasant revolt threatened capitalist stability, Fugger hired army commander George von Truchsess to quash it. Steinmetz is direct about his subject's dishonorable characteristics: mistreating employees, ruthlessly ruining business rivals, and calling in debts from the family of a recently deceased friend. While providing an interesting slice of history, Steinmetz fails to satisfactorily flesh out this obscure figure, and his account vacillates wildly between admiration and disgust.
The Richest Man Who Ever Lived
This book was better than expected. It was more than just a biography of an early industrial capitalist. It was a complete insight into the early 16th century. There was a lot going on in the early 1500's. European countries were discovering and exploiting two new continents. The reformation and Martin Luther were redefining a wide spread and powerful belief system. The printing press was finding its way into the eyes of Europe. The Papacy was in the grip of the Borgia's and the De Medici's. Magellan sailed around the world. And as it turns out, Jakob Fugger has his hands, his business and his money untwined in all of it.