The Sassoon Family’s Rags-to-Riches-to-Rags Story

(p. 8) The rise and fall of the Sassoon family, who, at their height, traded in opium, tea, silk and jewels, is charted in delectable detail in “The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire,” by the historian Joseph Sassoon, a distant relative who seems just as pleased as anyone unrelated might be to uncover the grit and gains of a tribe of fascinating figures.

. . .

Rags-to-riches stories may all be the same, but it’s the way in which a fortune is lost that’s truly compelling. Sassoon’s detailed account of the decentralization of family power and the proliferation of descendants interested in spending but not making money is well paced and supremely satisfying. An observer of the clan notes that “nothing suppresses an appetite for commerce more than a diet of gentlemanly pursuits,” and readers are treated through the second half of the book to a slow-motion sputtering out of David Sassoon’s great machine. You find yourself feeling for them: While masters of the universe inspire little sympathy, knowing from the first page that this empire has crumbled allows you to mourn the sunset of a particular kind of existence, even as a part of you revels in it.

For the full review, see:

Adam Rathe. “BOOKSHELF; Dynasty.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 6, 2022): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Oct. 25, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; The Rise and Fall of a Great Dynasty.”)

The book under review is:

Sassoon, Joseph. The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire. New York: Pantheon, 2022.

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