Essential Books on J. P. Morgan
There are numerous books on J. P. Morgan, and it comes with good reason, he was an American financier and investment banker who dominated corporate finance on Wall Street throughout the Gilded Age.
“No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on J. P. Morgan.
Morgan: American Financier by Jean Strouse
A century ago, J. Pierpont Morgan bestrode the financial world like a colossus. The organizing force behind General Electric, U.S. Steel, and vast railroad empires, he served for decades as America’s unofficial central banker: a few months after he died in 1913, the Federal Reserve replaced the private system he had devised. An early supporter of Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie, the confidant (and rival) of Theodore Roosevelt, England’s Edward VII, and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, and the companion of several fascinating women, Morgan shaped his world and ours in countless ways. Yet since his death he has remained a mysterious figure, celebrated as a hero of industrial progress and vilified as a rapacious robber baron.
Here is the biography Morgan has long deserved – a magisterial, full-scale portrait of the man without whose dominating will American finance and culture would be very different from what they are today. In this beautifully crafted account, drawn from more than a decade’s work in newly available archives, the award-winning biographer Jean Strouse animates Morgan’s life and times to reveal the entirely human character behind the often terrifying visage.
Morgan brings eye-opening perspectives to the role the banker played in the emerging U.S. economy as he raised capital in Europe, reorganized bankrupt railroads, stabilized markets in times of crisis, and set up many of the corporate and financial structures we take for granted. And surprising new stories introduce us in vivid detail to Morgan’s childhood in Hartford and Boston, his schooling in Switzerland and Germany, the start of his career in New York – as well as to his relations with his esteemed and exacting father, with his adored first and difficult second wives, with his children, partners, business associates, female consorts, and friends.
The House of Morgan by Ron Chernow
Considered a classic, The House of Morgan is the most ambitious history ever written about American finance. It is a rich, panoramic story of four generations of Morgans and the powerful, secretive firms they spawned, ones that would transform the modern financial world.
Tracing the trajectory of J. P. Morgan’s empire from its obscure beginnings in Victorian London to the financial crisis of 1987, acclaimed author Ron Chernow paints a fascinating portrait of the family’s private saga and the rarefied world of the American and British elite in which they moved – a world that included Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Nancy Astor, and Winston Churchill. A masterpiece of financial history, The House of Morgan is a compelling account of a remarkable institution and the men who ran it, and an essential book for understanding the money and power behind the major historical events of the last 150 years.
The Tycoons by Charles R. Morris
The modern American economy was the creation of four men: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan. They were the giants of the Gilded Age, a moment of riotous growth that established America as the richest, most inventive, and most productive country on the planet.
Acclaimed author Charles R. Morris vividly brings the men and their times to life. The ruthlessly competitive Carnegie, the imperial Rockefeller, and the provocateur Gould were obsessed with progress, experiment, and speed. They were balanced by Morgan, the gentleman businessman, who fought, instead, for a global trust in American business.
Through their antagonism and verve, they built an industrial behemoth – and a country of middle-class consumers. The Tycoons tells the incredible story of how these four determined men wrenched the economy into the modern age, inventing a nation of full economic participation that could not have been imagined only a few decades earlier
The Hour of Fate by Susan Berfield
It seemed like no force in the world could slow J. P. Morgan’s drive to power. In the summer of 1901, the financier was assembling his next mega-deal: Northern Securities, an enterprise that would affirm his dominance in America’s most important industry – the railroads.
Then, a bullet from an anarchist’s gun put an end to the business-friendly presidency of William McKinley. A new chief executive bounded into office: Theodore Roosevelt. He was convinced that as big business got bigger, the government had to check the influence of the wealthiest or the country would inch ever closer to collapse.
By March 1902, battle lines were drawn: the government sued Northern Securities for antitrust violations. But as the case ramped up, the coal miners’ union went on strike and the anthracite pits that fueled Morgan’s trains and heated the homes of Roosevelt’s citizens went silent. With millions of dollars on the line, winter bearing down, and revolution in the air, it was a crisis that neither man alone could solve.
This richly detailed and propulsively told gem among books on J. P. Morgan shares the gripping story of a banker and a president thrown together in the crucible of national emergency even as they fought in court. The outcome of the strike and the case would change the course of our history. Today, as the country again asks whether saving democracy means taming capital, the lessons of Roosevelt and Morgan’s time are more urgent than ever.
The Money Men by H.W. Brands
Most Americans are familiar with the political history of the United States, but there is another history woven all through it, a largely forgotten history – the story of the money men. Acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings them back to life: J. P. Morgan, who stabilized a foundering U.S. Treasury in 1907; Alexander Hamilton, who founded the first national bank, and Nicholas Biddle, under whose directorship it failed; Jay Cooke, who helped to finance the Union war effort through his then-innovative strategy of selling bonds to ordinary Americans; and Jay Gould, who tried to corner the market on gold in 1869 and as a result brought about Black Friday and fled for his life.
The Death of the Banker by Ron Chernow
With the same breadth of vision and narrative élan he brought to his monumental biographies of the great financiers, Ron Chernow examines the forces that made dynasties like the Morgans, the Warburgs, and the Rothschilds the financial arbiters of the early twentieth century and then rendered them virtually obsolete by the century’s end.
As he traces the shifting balance of power among investors, borrowers, and bankers, Chernow evokes both the grand theater of capital and the personal dramas of its most fascinating protagonists. Here is Siegmund Warburg, who dropped a client in the heat of a takeover deal because the man wore monogrammed shirt cuffs, as well as the imperious J. P. Morgan, who, when faced with a federal antitrust suit, admonished Theodore Roosevelt to “send your man to my man and they can fix it up.”
And here are the men who usurped their power, from the go-getters of the 1920s to the masters of the universe of the 1980s. Glittering with perception and anecdote, The Death of the Banker is at once a panorama of twentieth-century finance and a guide to the new era of giant mutual funds on Wall Street.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on J. P. Morgan, check out our list of The 5 Best Books on John D. Rockefeller!