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Reviewed by John McKay
When the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof was staged in Israel, the catchy line that begins "If I were a rich man" was rendered into Hebrew as "If I were a Rothschild. . . ." A family and firm of mythic proportions, the Rothschilds have been the object of serious investigation ever since Egon Count Corti's two-volume study, The Rise of the House of Rothschild and The Reign of the House of Rothschild (English translation, 1928). For example, Anka Muhlstein has written a sparkling biography on the founder of the Paris branch, James de Rothschild (1981 and subsequent English translation), which has joined with other works in recent years to increase substantially our knowledge of the pioneering generation. The two studies under consideration here make further significant contributions.
Herbert Lottman has turned the skills of a prize-winning biographer from literature to finance in his lively account of the French Rothschilds. Beginning with the familiar story of the brilliant success of Mayer Amschel Rothschild and his five sons as financial agents for William of Hesse and the …