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    A sweeping history of the legendary private investment firm Brown Brothers Harriman, exploring its central role in the story of American wealth and its rise to global power

    Conspiracy theories have always swirled around Brown Brothers Harriman, and not without reason. Throughout the 19th century, when America was convulsed by a devastating financial panic essentially every 20 years, Brown Brothers quietly went from strength to strength, propping up the US financial system at crucial moments and catalyzing successive booms, from the cotton trade and the steamship to the railroad, while largely managing to avoid the unwelcome attention that plagued some of its competitors. By the turn of the 20th century, Brown Brothers was unquestionably at the heart of what was meant by an American Establishment. As America's reach extended beyond its shores, Brown Brothers worked hand-in-glove with the State Department, notably in Nicaragua in the early 20th century, where the firm essentially took over the country's economy. To the Brown family, the virtue of their dealings was a given; their form of muscular Protestantism, forged on the playing fields of Groton and Yale, was the acme of civilization, and it was their duty to import that civilization to the world. When, during the Great Depression, Brown Brothers ensured their strength by merging with Averell Harriman's investment bank to form Brown Brothers Harriman, the die was cast for the role the firm would play on the global stage during World War II and thereafter, as its partners served at the highest levels of government to shape the international system that defines the world to this day.

    In Inside Money, acclaimed historian, commentator, and former financial executive Zachary Karabell offers the first full and frank look inside this institution against the backdrop of American history. Blessed with complete access to the company's archives, as well as a thrilling understanding of the larger forces at play, Karabell has created an X-ray of American power - financial, political, cultural - as it has evolved from the early 1800s to the present. Today, unlike many of its competitors, Brown Brothers Harriman remains a private partnership and a beacon of sustainable capitalism, having forgone the heady speculative upsides of the past 30 years but also having avoided any role in the devastating downsides. The firm is no longer in the command capsule of the American economy, but, arguably, that is to its credit. If its partners cleaved to any one adage over the generations, it is that a relentless pursuit of more can destroy more than it creates.

    ©2020 Zachary Karabell (P)2020 Penguin Audio


    “Zachery Karabell understand both money and American history. Here he weaves them together in a fascinating story that reads like a good multi-generational novel.” (Joseph Nye, professor at Harvard and author of Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump)

    “A captivating secret history of the rise of the American way of capitalism through the story of one powerful and insular family firm, Inside Money reminds us that a dominant caste’s sense of noblesse oblige conceals many ironies and much self-interest, but they knew when enough was enough and when private interest needed to give way to the public good.” (Dambisa Moyo, economist and author of Edge of Chaos

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    • Global
      5 out of 5 stars
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    • Lee Ward
    • 07/06/2021

    Quite comprehensive

    If you're looking for a definitive or exhaustive account of Brown Brothers, this is surely the book to get. I found it well-researched and fair but difficult to listen at critical junctures after a strong beginning. The downside for me is it has many new threads being introduced most of the time, as new background material is required for the listener to appreciate each chapter.

    I think the beginning was strong where the author established that Brown Brothers emerged as a provider of commercial paper while at the same time avoiding temptation regarding speculation. That has never been easy to do since speculators make so much fast money when times are good. It felt like a moral tale, but not for long.

    This book helped me gain perspective on the actual business of slavery, and I felt the most culpable parties were probably the handful of financiers who benefited while maintaining a cloak of deniability.

    The story of how the bank was saved in London during a particularly severe financial squeeze was dramatic. It was about being too big to fail. Later in the book, the foreign wars fueled or actually caused by business interests were instructive and left me profoundly disturbed. This shows that even after getting good breaks, being saved, goodness does not always follow.

    Narration is surprisingly good. The author says it how he wrote it and is gifted with natural voice ability. The average listener will probably find this book too academic, in my opinion. A more summarized version would have been appropriate for me.