The Last of the Imperious Rich: Lehman Brothers, 1844-2008, by Peter Chapman, Penguin, RRP£9.99, 308 pages
In 2008, having aggressively mined the deregulated credit default swaps market, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and collapsed in ignominy. Yet as Financial Times journalist Peter Chapman reveals in his engrossing history of the bank, it had a long and honourable pedigree.
Henry Lehmann (as the family name was originally), a Bavarian cattle dealer and astute haggler, arrived in New York in 1844 and Chapman maps the family’s burgeoning success. Beginning with peddling dry goods in Alabama before becoming slave-owning cotton merchants, then investing in heavy industrial and commodity brokerage, the story of the rise of Lehman Brothers is as much a history of the US as it is one of banking.
Unburdened by too much technical financial detail, Chapman tells a good yarn but also offers insights into some of the faultlines that still threaten international banking practices.