The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire

Pantheon. Oct. 2022. 432p. ISBN 9780593316597. $35. BIOG
In his new book, Georgetown Univ. historian Sassoon (Anatomy of Authoritarianism in the Arab Republics) relays in stunning detail the rise of the Sassoons, a Jewish Baghdadi family that became one of the most prominent merchant dynasties of the 19th century. The book spans generations as they grew their empire into one of the world’s largest after fleeing Baghdad for India and eventually partnered with the Rothschild banking empire. Beginning with the patriarch, David Sassoon, the family built a global empire heavily reliant on the opium trade but also in commodities, including tea and cotton. Despite being a distant relative to his titular subject, Sassoon maintains a historian’s impartiality, revealing, often in minute detail, the main figures who succeeded David and grew the company, blemishes included, and the influence the family had on British policy and issues ranging from tariffs to delaying laws restricting the opium trade. He further shows how they became part of the culture of the British elite through their philanthropic endeavors founding schools, synagogues, and other institutions in India and beyond.
VERDICT A meticulously detailed account of the rise and fall of a mercantile dynasty that will appeal to casual history buffs and academics alike.
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