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High Financier

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High Financier

The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg

Penguin Group (USA),

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Siegmund Warburg helped rebuild Europe after World War II, changed the course of international finance and built one of the 20th century’s most powerful banking empires.

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Editorial Rating



  • Background
  • Engaging
  • Inspiring


This panoramic biography of Siegmund Warburg reveals a complex man who built international banking in response to the great turbulence of the 20th century. Given access to previously unavailable personal letters and diaries, Niall Ferguson, a history professor at Harvard, spent 12 years profiling this singular man, who was shaped by early-20th-century Prussian Europe and lived through World War I, the rise of Nazism, the dark years of the Holocaust and post-World War II reconstruction. The book’s title aptly describes Warburg’s “lives,” since he reinvented himself in the face of world and personal events. Ferguson artfully weaves Warburg’s motives, business environment and family intrigues into the political evolution of Western Europe and the US. getAbstract highly recommends this detailed, readable biography of an extraordinary man.


Family Fortunes

Siegmund Warburg (1902-1982) was born into a wealthy family that could trace its heritage to the money-changing and banking businesses of the 1640s. Family tradition held that male members should pool a portion of their wealth and use it as capital for the family business. Thus, family relationships remained cordial as relatives settled in the US, Sweden and England. Brothers, cousins and, occasionally, uncles shared power through the generations. A similar structure governed other Jewish family banking empires, including the Rothschilds’, a banking dynasty where five brothers built a family fortune two generations before Siegmund’s formative years.

The Warburg family entered the banking business in 1798. Around 1900, Siegmund’s uncle Max Warburg expanded into international and German industrial bonds to supplement the firm’s existing arbitrage and commercial-paper trading business. The branch of the Warburg’s bank in Hamburg prospered from 1890 to 1914, the “first age of globalization,” during which manufacturing, commodity markets, capital and labor forged new worldwide networks. Hamburg thrived as the largest harbor in the world’s fastest growing...

About the Author

Niall Ferguson teaches history at Harvard University and wrote Empire, The Cash Nexus, The Ascent of Money and several other books.

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