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Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World's Great Family Businesses

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A rich and lively survey of the great families who rule industry by the acclaimed author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations Through perseverance, solid ingenuity, and unwavering determination, family-run companies— dynasties—have dominated wealth and business throughout the last two centuries. One third of Fortune 500 firms are family owned and, in most cases, the ideal A rich and lively survey of the great families who rule industry by the acclaimed author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations Through perseverance, solid ingenuity, and unwavering determination, family-run companies— dynasties—have dominated wealth and business throughout the last two centuries. One third of Fortune 500 firms are family owned and, in most cases, the ideal of the family business is one synonymous with continuity, watchful leadership, and dedication to success. But what happens when bad behavior, extravagance, and laziness—all very real enemies of industry—are allowed to proliferate? In Dynasties, bestselling author and historian David S. Landes scrutinizes the powerful family businesses that rule both the financial and industrial sectors across Europe, Japan, and America to determine what factors can cause a dynasty to flourish or fail. Focusing on three areas—banking, automobiles, and raw materials—his cast of characters speaks to the power of the family enterprise: Ford, Rothschild, Morgan, Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Toyoda are but a few whose histories contain all the drama and passion expected when exorbitant money, power, and kinship intersect. Drawing on his immense knowledge of economic history, Landes offers a new reading of the dynastic business plan of the last two centuries—with surprising recommendations for the coming one.


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A rich and lively survey of the great families who rule industry by the acclaimed author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations Through perseverance, solid ingenuity, and unwavering determination, family-run companies— dynasties—have dominated wealth and business throughout the last two centuries. One third of Fortune 500 firms are family owned and, in most cases, the ideal A rich and lively survey of the great families who rule industry by the acclaimed author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations Through perseverance, solid ingenuity, and unwavering determination, family-run companies— dynasties—have dominated wealth and business throughout the last two centuries. One third of Fortune 500 firms are family owned and, in most cases, the ideal of the family business is one synonymous with continuity, watchful leadership, and dedication to success. But what happens when bad behavior, extravagance, and laziness—all very real enemies of industry—are allowed to proliferate? In Dynasties, bestselling author and historian David S. Landes scrutinizes the powerful family businesses that rule both the financial and industrial sectors across Europe, Japan, and America to determine what factors can cause a dynasty to flourish or fail. Focusing on three areas—banking, automobiles, and raw materials—his cast of characters speaks to the power of the family enterprise: Ford, Rothschild, Morgan, Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Toyoda are but a few whose histories contain all the drama and passion expected when exorbitant money, power, and kinship intersect. Drawing on his immense knowledge of economic history, Landes offers a new reading of the dynastic business plan of the last two centuries—with surprising recommendations for the coming one.

30 review for Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World's Great Family Businesses

  1. 5 out of 5

    Pamela_b_lawrencemsn.com

    Meh. The good thing about the book is that the author has nailed a poolside reading reading style, so I was able to read it quickly - I wouldn't have finished it otherwise. I don't feel I learned much more than I would have from Wikipedia, maybe a few more anecdotes from family memoirs. But it saved me from having to read the Wikipedia version. If you're really interested in this topic, this book would drive you nuts, because every time he gets to substance he glosses over. Read the works cited Meh. The good thing about the book is that the author has nailed a poolside reading reading style, so I was able to read it quickly - I wouldn't have finished it otherwise. I don't feel I learned much more than I would have from Wikipedia, maybe a few more anecdotes from family memoirs. But it saved me from having to read the Wikipedia version. If you're really interested in this topic, this book would drive you nuts, because every time he gets to substance he glosses over. Read the works cited instead. Flaws: Although this is what makes it so readable, it's written like college lectures by a long-standing professor who is used to having all hang on every word. Many gratuitous historical and cultural observations, just tossed in with no cite or support. Sometimes confusing, as he skips around in the generations and you're not always sure whom he's talking about. Also, he doesn't always explain the point he is trying to make, and relies on lingo instead of explanation. Personal stylistic peeve for writing - strings of questions, fine in a lecture setting. Also, the edition I read had several typos and grammatical errors. Bottom line: Don't bother unless your level of desire is to know the Wikipedia version plus some anecdotes and you are looking for a non-demanding read that is not a romance or mystery novel.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laughing Cavalier

    This was a frustrating book. The author has exceptional knowledge, and appears to have the ability to make well-reasoned arguments supported by robust analysis. Further, he writes reasonably well and is writing about what should be an interesting subject. However, the book itself is not insightful, informative or engaging. I think I would have enjoyed the book if there had been a clearer focus on either the pros and cons of the family business structure compared to a corporate/managerial structure This was a frustrating book. The author has exceptional knowledge, and appears to have the ability to make well-reasoned arguments supported by robust analysis. Further, he writes reasonably well and is writing about what should be an interesting subject. However, the book itself is not insightful, informative or engaging. I think I would have enjoyed the book if there had been a clearer focus on either the pros and cons of the family business structure compared to a corporate/managerial structure, or on the development of the various industries profiled in the book with analysis of the role of family firms in their development. The book provides limited analysis about these issues. Rather, the bulk of the content involves a series of case studies of particular families. These case studies seek to cover long timespans (ie. in some cases several hundreds of years) in 30 pages or less, and include personal "colour" and anecdote with commercial descriptions. The result are a series of potted histories that can be difficult to follow and which provide limited insight about how the family business structure affected outcomes, or the implications for family business structures into the future. I gave up reading the book before the end which is rare for me.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gson

    I was very unimpressed with this book for a lot of different reasons. I guess much effort was put in the research to complete this novel, too bad the same amount of effort wasn't put into the delivery. I cannot be sure about the books faults in this department though, since I didnt read it in its original language. The Swedish translation was horrible. The book was written in a way that sometimes confuses the reader and it skips back and forth in time in a way that makes you unsure exactly where I was very unimpressed with this book for a lot of different reasons. I guess much effort was put in the research to complete this novel, too bad the same amount of effort wasn't put into the delivery. I cannot be sure about the books faults in this department though, since I didnt read it in its original language. The Swedish translation was horrible. The book was written in a way that sometimes confuses the reader and it skips back and forth in time in a way that makes you unsure exactly where you are in the history of each of the ”dynasties”. Furthermore it seems that the writer has trouble keeping his own opinions at bay and in almost every chapter there is some kind of smug remark that seems to have little, or no, substance to it. To be honest i was expecting quite a lot, and the book just didn't live up to that.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bchara

    The story of dynasties interests me highly, and the book is very informative, picking a dozen of family-owned business around three themes (banking, automobile, natural resources). If i only gave this book 2 stars, it is not to deny its qualities : it is entertaining and full of anecdotes. But i somehow felt the families were dealt with too quickly, and not evenly: the banking families are much more well-studied than the other ones. And with some other families, very little is said of the other g The story of dynasties interests me highly, and the book is very informative, picking a dozen of family-owned business around three themes (banking, automobile, natural resources). If i only gave this book 2 stars, it is not to deny its qualities : it is entertaining and full of anecdotes. But i somehow felt the families were dealt with too quickly, and not evenly: the banking families are much more well-studied than the other ones. And with some other families, very little is said of the other generations (the rockefellers for example). Also, concerning the banking families, the author avoid the technical parts - he throws some big words but without explaining what they mean, and i had to do my own research. And the final conclusions were rather too evident. It is a light reading, entertaining, but not quite fulfilling.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Norman Metzger

    Considering the author and his towering reputation, I was shocked on finding this a very poor book. The writing is often superficial, the tone hovering between sophomoric and condescending, and exhibiting the arks of a hastily put together book. Simply don't understand how the author's achievements and historical strengths are absent from this book. While the subject is interesting, almost no effort is expended aside from a few thin sentences on how, for example, the Rothschilds made their fortu Considering the author and his towering reputation, I was shocked on finding this a very poor book. The writing is often superficial, the tone hovering between sophomoric and condescending, and exhibiting the arks of a hastily put together book. Simply don't understand how the author's achievements and historical strengths are absent from this book. While the subject is interesting, almost no effort is expended aside from a few thin sentences on how, for example, the Rothschilds made their fortune; i.e. what financial mechanisms did they use that escaped their competitors. Rather one treated to more detail on familial relationships that often become quite tedious. What a disappointment.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul Mamani

    difficult not to be intrigued by the stories of great business families such as the Rothschilds, Morgans, Rockefellers, Toyodas and Agnellis. They have helped to shape the world as we know it, enjoyed wealth beyond imagination and often lived highly colourful lives, whether by virtue of extraordinary frugality (JD Rockefeller) or flamboyant luxury (Gianni Agnelli). David Landes defines dynasties as three successive generations of family control. But in his 13 case studies, there are rather differ difficult not to be intrigued by the stories of great business families such as the Rothschilds, Morgans, Rockefellers, Toyodas and Agnellis. They have helped to shape the world as we know it, enjoyed wealth beyond imagination and often lived highly colourful lives, whether by virtue of extraordinary frugality (JD Rockefeller) or flamboyant luxury (Gianni Agnelli). David Landes defines dynasties as three successive generations of family control. But in his 13 case studies, there are rather different typologies, from continuing family control of the private banking firm for more than 250 years in the case of the Rothschilds, to the many threads of business that comprise such histories as Peugeot, to those families such as the Rockefellers who long ago relinquished control of Standard Oil and its successor companies, and used their huge wealth in the pursuit of philanthropy, politics and the arts.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Husam Abdullatif

    A nice book to read about families and their effect and legacy in business with entertaining reviews of some of the lost influential families, their origin stories and how they progressed through the generations.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Walter Vanallen

    Really enjoyed reading this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Camry A'Keen

    It took me so long to finish this book but gave me a framework for maintaining my family's dynasty. It took me so long to finish this book but gave me a framework for maintaining my family's dynasty.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Great book about family dynasties. I learned a lot about the various families from now to the 17th century.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    This is a neat history book about family dynasties that have dictated the course of the world. I have long been fascinated with the Rockefellers and Guggenheims, but I learned a lot from the chapters on automobile tycoons such as the flamboyant Agnellis (of Fiat), the Peugeot, and the bizarre Ford clan. (For instance, I knew patriarch Henry Ford was a rabid anti-semite; I did not know he went so far as to by his own printing press to publish a monthly newspaper denouncing Jews -- and this during This is a neat history book about family dynasties that have dictated the course of the world. I have long been fascinated with the Rockefellers and Guggenheims, but I learned a lot from the chapters on automobile tycoons such as the flamboyant Agnellis (of Fiat), the Peugeot, and the bizarre Ford clan. (For instance, I knew patriarch Henry Ford was a rabid anti-semite; I did not know he went so far as to by his own printing press to publish a monthly newspaper denouncing Jews -- and this during the crucial World War II years). The rich have habits and eccentricities the rest of us can learn from, as this book makes clear. Familial dynasties intrinsically have their perks - and their terrible liabilities. (For instance, the necessities, for these old-timers, for sons to be born. Daughters had no place in the business world. And what if the much longed-for son had no head for business, as in the case of Henry Ford's son, Edsel.) With its concentration on bankers (Rothschilds, Baring) automobile makers, and those who made their fortunes in natural, raw materials, (i.e., steel and oil), this is very interesting cross-section of stories.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    I had the happy accident this week of watching the movie "Sabrina", which illuminated Landes' book. As Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear, the rich brothers, traded barbs about who worked too much and who worked not at all, "Dynasties" came to life. Landes writes about famous-name family businesses (think Rothschilds, Fords, Guggenheims) and how they fare from generation to generation. Truthfully, much of the book was out of my depth as he talked about joint stock capitalization and Vichy France. But I had the happy accident this week of watching the movie "Sabrina", which illuminated Landes' book. As Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear, the rich brothers, traded barbs about who worked too much and who worked not at all, "Dynasties" came to life. Landes writes about famous-name family businesses (think Rothschilds, Fords, Guggenheims) and how they fare from generation to generation. Truthfully, much of the book was out of my depth as he talked about joint stock capitalization and Vichy France. But I got glimpses of personality here and there: If Grandpa starts a bank, or invents a car, or strikes oil, who among his sons and grandsons will possess the talent AND the interest to keep the enterprise going? Just like in the movie, plenty of descendants would rather use all that wealth just for playing. Would be a lovely temptation, no?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Abdirashid Jama

    Loved the background on each founder a beautiful marriage of academia and storytelling. Did a thorough job on explaining what each dynasty was founded on and just enough background for an individual who may not know much about each industry. Particularly Remember the Car manufacturers. I was either to uninterested in Banking or it went above my head at the time because of lack of knowledge although politics and feuds attached to money and partnership was interesting. As for natural resources who Loved the background on each founder a beautiful marriage of academia and storytelling. Did a thorough job on explaining what each dynasty was founded on and just enough background for an individual who may not know much about each industry. Particularly Remember the Car manufacturers. I was either to uninterested in Banking or it went above my head at the time because of lack of knowledge although politics and feuds attached to money and partnership was interesting. As for natural resources who doesn't know a little about Oil and Rockefeller!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Oon Yong Lin

    Landes wrote a great book about family dynasties, it gave the reader a good view of how the family enterprise functioned and the contributions of an individual or a group of family members involved in the firm. The only drawback is that on some chapters the author dors not follow the 'timeline' and it can be quite a bother. However this book is great and I recommend it to all who are interested in the businesses/family firms in this book. Landes wrote a great book about family dynasties, it gave the reader a good view of how the family enterprise functioned and the contributions of an individual or a group of family members involved in the firm. The only drawback is that on some chapters the author dors not follow the 'timeline' and it can be quite a bother. However this book is great and I recommend it to all who are interested in the businesses/family firms in this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Interesting to see how many famous families started and have continued their businesses over generations. The anecdotes can be a bit confusing at times as Landes skips around between characters. However, the main points of the book can be easily taken in and there are tons of lessons to learn from these famous businessmen that created and innovated industries.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Milele

    Certainly has lots of cute anecdotes, but the style seems fragmented and the narrative disjoint. Some tidbits were jarring, placed in the text apparently to show off -- e.g. The aside where the author tells us that graduates of ENA are calked "enarques" in France. Really? We needed to know that? I guess we needed to know the author knows that. Certainly has lots of cute anecdotes, but the style seems fragmented and the narrative disjoint. Some tidbits were jarring, placed in the text apparently to show off -- e.g. The aside where the author tells us that graduates of ENA are calked "enarques" in France. Really? We needed to know that? I guess we needed to know the author knows that.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Le Lien

    Lots of good things to learn. Alot of research went into this book. But the delivery was a bit boring. He jumped back and forth a lot to make comparisons. I think if you read this book it is better to read the book than the audio version so you can keep track of the names. If you are open minded and don't find history boring it is a good read but requires a good attention span. Lots of good things to learn. Alot of research went into this book. But the delivery was a bit boring. He jumped back and forth a lot to make comparisons. I think if you read this book it is better to read the book than the audio version so you can keep track of the names. If you are open minded and don't find history boring it is a good read but requires a good attention span.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A lot of entertaining stories about well-known family businesses which make it fun to read, but rather sloppy and shallow analysis. Clearly no truly original research was done and the families selected seemed to be for their star value as much as anything. More effort in the research of family firms could have yielded many more substantial examples of business building.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erwin

    adequate. no new ground covered here. examples chosen are all the most obvious ones. no counterexamples are shown. some interesting trivia, but nothing worth the time it takes to read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Lincoln

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tim Krete

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rich

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shortstop353

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo Scissorhands

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pie Resting-Place

  26. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  27. 5 out of 5

    Flavio Torres

  28. 5 out of 5

    M

  29. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Juho Wallenius

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