The astonishing story of the Sassoons, one of the nineteenth century’s preeminent commercial families and ‘the Rothschilds of the East’
The Sassoons were one of the great business dynasties of the nineteenth century, as eminent as traders as the Rothschilds were bankers. This book reveals the secrets behind the family’s phenomenal success: how a handful of Jewish exiles from Ottoman Baghdad forged a mercantile juggernaut from their new home in colonial Bombay, the vast network of agents, informants and politicians they built, and the way they came to bridge East and West, culturally as well as commercially. As one competitor remarked, ‘silver and gold, silks, gums and spices, opium and cotton, wool and wheat – whatever moves over sea or land feels the hand or bears the mark of Sassoon & Co.’
Drawing for the first time on the vast family archives, Joseph Sassoon brings vividly to life a succession of remarkable characters. From a single generation: Flora, the first woman to steer a major global business, Siegfried, the poet, and Victor, the tycoon who drew the stars of Hollywood’s silent era to his skyscraper in Shanghai. Through the lives these ambitious figures built for themselves in London, Bombay and beyond, the reader is drawn into a captivating world of politics and power, innovation and intrigue, high society and empire.
The Global Merchants is thus at once an intimate portrait of a single family and a panorama of the hundred and thirty years of their prominence: from the Opium Wars and opening of China to the American Civil War, the establishment of the British Raj to India’s independence. Together these give a fresh perspective on the evolution of one of the defining forces of their age and the present: globalization. The Sassoons were variously its agents, advocates and casualties, and watching them moving through the world, we perceive the making of our own.