Dynasties: Fortune and Misfortune in the World's Great Family Businesses by David Landes

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Dynasties: Fortune and Misfortune in the World's Great Family Businesses by David Landes

Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A scholarly look at the family dynasties who have founded businesses in Banking, automobiles and raw materials gives a good overview of the industries and would make a good starting point for further study of the families or the industry.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670885312

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It's not surprising that family-run companies have dominated the business world for hundreds of years: after all it tends to be the family who are brought in to help in the early stages and then the family to whom it's eventually passed if the business is successful. David Landes uses his background in history and economics to examine some of the dynasties which have dominated banking, automobiles and raw materials and to look at what makes them flourish or fail.

The names in this book are household names. In Banking the book looks at the Barings, the Rothschilds and the Morgans and in doing so provides a potted history of the development of modern Banking, where the major commodity was not money but trust and who you knew was more important than what you knew. The founders are brought to life and their place in the business world and the family established. It's not all dry information - take for instance Nathan Mayer Rothschild being interrupted by a powerful, wealthy man as he worked at his desk. Rothschild told him to take a chair and he'd be with him shortly. The man was offended -"Do you know who I am?" he asked as he showed the royal crest in the lining of his top hat. "Take two chairs" was Nathan's reply. It's not light reading, either. There's a great deal of information compressed into quite a few pages and unless you have some background knowledge of Banking or the business world you might struggle with some of the terms.

With automobiles the language is less technical and more down-to-earth. Successful Bankers were shrewd businessmen, but the men who founded the car companies were mechanical geniuses with a determination to make cars. The obvious starting point is Henry Ford who was less than loveable but a genius when it came to automobiles. Ford wanted to make cars available to the masses and went for cheapness rather than quality - a reputation which has seemed to dog Ford to the present day. In Banking the dynasties were limited to the USA and the UK but in Automobiles the spread is wider, taking in the Agnelli family and Fiat, Peugeot, Renault and Citroën from France and the Toyodas of Japan. What comes across strongly is how larger than life the founders were, but how most of the descendants seem to pale into insignificance.

Business dynasties are largely a thing of the past as no one family can hope to produce all the people that a business needs if it is to be successful. Sooner or later outsiders will have to be brought in and the more successful businesses seem to have realised this at an early stage. Landes' book is a fascinating look at what makes the business successful initially and how it survives (or not, in the case of the Barings) in future generations.

I found the writing style a little difficult in places as it varied between quite complex sentence structures which required repeated readings before the sense could be established and statements such as "Peace returned with the end of the war... " This did detract from the pleasure of the book. It's an interesting study of the family dynasty in business but for me the main value was that it provided a taster of people whom I would like to know more about.

Buy Dynasties: Fortune and Misfortune in the World's Great Family Businesses by David Landes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dynasties: Fortune and Misfortune in the World's Great Family Businesses by David Landes at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Dynasties: Fortune and Misfortune in the World's Great Family Businesses by David Landes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dynasties: Fortune and Misfortune in the World's Great Family Businesses by David Landes at Amazon.com.


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