Hi, I'm Dan Schulman, deputy DC bureau chief here at Mother Jones.
When I started working on my new book, my eldest son was an infant. Today, the little guy goes out into the world—the book, that is. My son is still in elementary school.
The Money Kings: The Epic Story of the Jewish Immigrants Who Transformed Wall Street and Shaped Modern America is an eight-year journey that took me from Berlin and London to Cincinnati and Norman, Oklahoma (and many places in between), as I pieced together the Gilded Age-saga of a remarkable group of German-Jewish dynasties. These families—with now familiar names such as Goldman, Lehman, Sachs, Schiff, Seligman, Warburg—would profoundly shape the rise of modern finance (and so much more).
Amazingly, firms such as Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Kuhn Loeb, and J. & W. Seligman Co. emerged from the overstuffed rucksacks and horse-drawn carts of immigrant peddlers who had come to the United States in the 1800s seeking opportunities that were closed to them in Germany, where Jews were barred from many professions. They would go on to capitalize some of America’s most iconic companies and the railroads that formed the arterial system of the national economy; to pioneer the modern IPO and organize early commodities exchanges; and to influence the creation of institutions (the Federal Reserve) and policies (the progressive income tax) that undergird our economic system.
But their monumental legacies extended far beyond finance. As I would discover, their American story was tied directly to my own—and to those of millions of American Jews who are descended from Russian and Eastern European immigrants. Led by the financier Jacob Schiff, a main character in my narrative, German-Jewish tycoons presided over an unparalleled era of philanthropy and institution-building that formed the bedrock of American Jewish life. They made it possible for millions of Jewish immigrants to not only come to the United States, but to thrive here.
There was also a tragic aspect to their story. Schiff and his allies believed they were on the cusp of a new era, one in which ancient prejudices and stereotypes were receding. But not only would antisemitism come roaring back in a new and virulent form during the early 20th century, but Schiff and his friends would figure prominently in the conspiracy theories that persist to this day.
When I started this project, I knew their stories were important. What I didn’t realize was the extent to which we are living in the world that they helped to build. History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes, as the famous saying goes. And lately, I’ve been hearing a great many rhymes from that era—from the ongoing immigration wars to the debate over tech monopolies and income inequality. Sadly, antisemitism too is on the rise, and the world of over a century ago seems closer than ever.
The Money Kings is available wherever you buy your books. If you’d like your copy signed, email me at email@example.com and I will send you a signed bookplate (a label you can affix to the inside cover). I hope you enjoy the book!