We have a very special episode of Jonesy for you today, so special in fact, we needed an extra hour, 90 minutes in total, to get it all in. Our guest is Andrew Meier, author of the new multi-generational biography Morgenthau: Power, Privilege and the Rise of an American Dynasty from Random House.
The book tells the story of four generations of Morgenthaus, from the family patriarch Lazarus Morgenthau who migrated to New York from Germany in 1866, to Henry Sr. who made a fortune in Manhattan real estate then devoted his life to public service, to Henry Jr. who was FDR’s closest friend and served in his administration as Secretary of the Treasury from 1933 to 1944, the longest running term of any Cabinet member in U.S. history, and finally to Robert Morgenthau, who prosecuted both organized crime and white-collar crime as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and then as Manhattan District Attorney, a position he held for nine terms and 35 years.
Andrew guides us through over 150 years of U.S. history as we follow the four Morgenthaus, and the events and people in their lives, including the California Gold Rush, the Gilded Age and Manhattan real estate boom, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Woodrow Wilson, the Armenian genocide, the Greek genocide, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Depression, the Holocaust and War Refugee Board, the sinking of the USS Lansdale by Nazi torpedos, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, the Central Park Five, and, lastly, Donald Trump.
It's a fascinating story, one that Andrew spent over ten years researching and writing. He interviewed more than 350 people and spent hundreds of hours talking with the last of the four Morgenthaus, Robert, before his passing in 2019. The result is biography that reads like a cross between an 18th Century Russian novel and Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy, a tale of the American dream, of rags to riches, and of using those riches, and the power and privilege that came with it, to comfort the oppressed and oppress the comfortable. But, at its heart, it’s a tale of fathers and their sons.
Author photo courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe