Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Virtuous Bankers: A Day in the Life of the Eighteenth-Century Bank of England (Anne Murphy)

The Bank of England was established as a private business in the 17th Century and operated as such until the 1940’s when it was nationalized. For centuries, the bank operated for the benefit of its shareholders and customers but became, much like the banks in the United States, an enterprise that was a great economic engine for Great Britain. But just what was a day in the life in the 18th Century Bank of England like? Anne Murphy shows us how this burgeoning financial institution operated in Virtuous Bankers: A Day in the Life of the Eighteenth-Century Bank of England.

Murphy discusses the various roles of bank employees - tellers, clerks, plate printers, and trustees - over the course of a typical bank day in 1783 or 1784. Much of this book is sourced on the notes from a Committee of Inspection that examined the bank’s finances and its operations in this timeframe, shaping a “day in the life” of banking activities.

Besides the basic financial roles of bank employees during the day, night watchmen patrolled the bank after hours and of course, someone had to clean up after the various horses and humans that needed to use the facilities outside of the bank during the day. Eighteenth-Century London certainly lacked the cleanliness and charm that it has today; however, it had all of the financial importance and hustle of a major global city. The Bank of England played a critical role in financing Britain’s growth, and Murphy captures how the bank operated over 200 years in great detail. Virtuous Bankers is a great read for anyone with a financial and history inclination.


Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived: Tom Watson Jr. and the Epic Story of How IBM Created the Digital Age (Ralph Watson McElvenny and Marc Wortman)

Thomas Watson Jr. was the 2nd generation CEO and leader of IBM, taking over from his father in the 1950’s and guiding the organization for nearly 20 years. Coined “the greatest capitalist in history” by Fortune magazine in 1984, Watson’s success at IBM helped drive the technological revolution that Microsoft, Google, and countless other companies have used to guide even more substantial innovation and wealth. The story of Watson’s life and his career are told in The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived: Tom Watson Jr. and the Epic Story of How IBM Created the Digital Age by Ralph Watson McElvenny (Watson’s grandson) and Marc Wortman.

The authors chronicle the history of IBM and both Watson Sr. and Jr. over a several decade timeframe. IBM was born shortly before Watson Sr. was fired from NCR in 1914, renamed in 1924 from the original founding name of CTR (Computing-Tabulating-Recording). Watson Sr. guided the company until 1952, when he handed the reins to his son. For over 20 years, Watson’s leadership helped grow the company into a multibillion dollar enterprise and revolutionized IBM by pivoting the company into computers. While the move initially almost bankrupted the company, Watson’s leadership and executive team helped steady the initially turbulent period in the midst of the rollout of System360 and System370.

The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived dives into Watson’s battle with his father while moving up through the ranks at IBM, along with his struggles in working with his brother Dick, also an executive with IBM. There were also diplomatic efforts that Watson undertook, helping provide guidance and advice to several presidents and serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1970’s. 

McElvenny and Wortman do a great service in chronicling Watson Jr. through this book and any business-inclined individual would likely benefit from reading it.


Wednesday, November 8, 2023

One Fine Day: Britain's Empire on the Brink (Matthew Parker)

The British Empire reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, covering large swaths of the world’s land footprint. The English also boasted arguably the world’s best and most formidable navy in the years leading up to World War I. September 29th, 1923 marked the British Mandate for Palestine taking effect after League of Nations approval. Matthew Parker uses this date as the basis of his book One Fine Day: Britain’s Empire on the Brink.

One Fine Day is a global walkabout through the British Empire in late 1923: the challenges it is facing and the events that are slowly developing that will eventually cause the Empire to fall apart over the next several decades. The British Empire at this point had 14 million square miles of real estate (including its independent dominions in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) and 460 million people were subjects of King Geoge V. However, there were many challenges: developing nationalist movements in India and numerous African and West Indies colonies are given significant coverage. A story of the exploitation of Ocean Island’s (also known as Banaba) natural resources shows one element of the dark side of British business interests in this era. 

Parker pays great attention to the economic issues facing Britain and the world during this time, much of it aftershocks of World War I disrupting the economic order of the late 19th Century. The author also pulls in observations from Orwell and Forster, both of whom were working in India at various points and writing about their experiences in Asia. One Fine Day is a fine book, full of detailed and insightful stories about an Empire that was about to undergo a dramatic reduction and transformation in its next several decades.