The richest man who ever lived The life and times of Jacob Fugger

Greg Steinmetz

Book - 2015

"The life and times of the wealthiest man who ever lived--Jacob Fugger--the Renaissance banker who revolutionized the art of making money and established the radical idea of pursuing wealth for its own sake. Jacob Fugger lived in Germany at the turn of the sixteenth century, the grandson of a peasant. By the time he died, his fortune amounted to nearly two percent of European GDP. Not even John D. Rockefeller had that kind of wealth. Most people become rich by spotting opportunities, pionee...ring new technologies, or besting opponents in negotiations. Fugger did all that, but he had an extra quality that allowed him to rise even higher: nerve. In an era when kings had unlimited power, Fugger had the nerve to stare down heads of state and ask them to pay back their loans--with interest. It was this coolness and self-assurance, along with his inexhaustible ambition, that made him not only the richest man ever, but a force of history as well. Before Fugger came along it was illegal under church law to charge interest on loans, but he got the Pope to change that. He also helped trigger the Reformation and likely funded Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. His creation of a news service, which gave him an information edge over his rivals and customers, earned Fugger a footnote in the history of journalism. And he took Austria's Habsburg family from being second-tier sovereigns to rulers of the first empire where the sun never set. The ultimate untold story, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived is more than a tale about the richest and most influential businessman of all time. It is a story about palace intrigue, knights in battle, family tragedy and triumph, and a violent clash between the 1 percent and everybody else. To understand our financial system and how we got it, it pays to understand Jacob Fugger"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Simon & Schuster [2015]
Edition
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xvii, 283 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : some color illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781451688559
1451688555
Main Author
Greg Steinmetz (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

An essential element in the economic transition and expansion of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was the role played by bankers. The Medici bankers of Florence have been well publicized, even referred to by some as the "godfathers" of the Renaissance. Less famous but equally important roles were played by German banking houses, and Jacob Fugger led perhaps the most influential of all in the sixteenth century. Steinmetz, a former journalist who currently works as a security analyst, traces Fugger's career, from his middle-class origins in Augsburg in southern Germany to the heights of economic power in the Hapsburg empire. In a very hierarchical society, Fugger was a driven man determined to spar on equal footing with aristocrats who needed him but treated him with condescension and often contempt. In an age where "usury" was condemned, Fugger not only charged interest but encouraged the papacy to end the prohibition. He was a strong Catholic who may have inadvertently helped spark the Reformation by prompting the selling of indulgences that outraged Luther. Steinmetz views Fugger as an admirable, brilliant, and courageous but not a particularly lovable pioneer, who helped usher in the modern world. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Steinmetz, a securities analyst and former journalist, reveals the untold story of history's "first documented millionaire": 16th-century German banker Jacob Fugger. Born into an Augsburg textile family and apprenticed in Venice to learn the trade, young Fugger also picked up the basics of banking before moving on to mining and spices. However, his important contributions to history revolve around loans: funding conquests by Maximilian of Hapsburg, orchestrating the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and providing Maximilian's successor, Charles, with "the biggest loan the world had ever seen" for his campaign to be emperor. Fugger is further credited with destroying the Hanseatic League and organizing a debate that led to Pope Leo lifting the ban on usury. Steinmetz argues that Fugger also indirectly sparked the Protestant Reformation by accepting indulgence money as loan payments. When a peasant revolt threatened capitalist stability, Fugger hired army commander George von Truchsess to quash it. Steinmetz is direct about his subject's dishonorable characteristics: mistreating employees, ruthlessly ruining business rivals, and calling in debts from the family of a recently deceased friend. While providing an interesting slice of history, Steinmetz fails to satisfactorily flesh out this obscure figure, and his account vacillates wildly between admiration and disgust. Agent: David Kuhn, Kuhn Projects. (Aug.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"The life and times of the wealthiest man who ever lived--Jacob Fugger--the Renaissance banker who revolutionized the art of making money and established the radical idea of pursuing wealth for its own sake. Jacob Fugger lived in Germany at the turn of the sixteenth century, the grandson of a peasant. By the time he died, his fortune amounted to nearly two percent of European GDP. Not even John D. Rockefeller had that kind of wealth. Most people become rich by spotting opportunities, pioneering new technologies, or besting opponents in negotiations. Fugger did all that, but he had an extra quality that allowed him to rise even higher: nerve. In an era when kings had unlimited power, Fugger had the nerve to stare down heads of state and ask them to pay back their loans--with interest. It was this coolness and self-assurance, along with his inexhaustible ambition, that made him not only the richest man ever, but a force of history as well. Before Fugger came along it was illegal under church law to charge interest on loans, but he got the Pope to change that. He also helped trigger the Reformation and likely funded Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. His creation of a news service, which gave him an information edge over his rivals and customers, earned Fugger a footnote in the history of journalism. And he took Austria's Habsburg family from being second-tier sovereigns to rulers of the first empire where the sun never set. The ultimate untold story, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived is more than a tale about the richest and most influential businessman of all time. It is a story about palace intrigue, knights in battle, family tragedy and triumph, and a violent clash between the 1 percent and everybody else. To understand our financial system and how we got it, it pays to understand Jacob Fugger"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In a fascinating biography—filled with palace intrigue, knights in battle, family tragedy and triumph and a violent clash between the 1 percent and everybody else—the life and times of the wealthiest man who ever lived, a Renaissance banker who revolutionized the art of making money, are explored.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Describes the life and riches of German banker Jacob Fugger, who made his fortune through high-interest loans to the Habsburg family, and details the legacy his banking practices have left on history.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

The life and times of the wealthiest man who ever lived—Jacob Fugger—the Renaissance banker who revolutionized the art of making money and established the radical idea of pursuing wealth for its own sake.Jacob Fugger lived in Germany at the turn of the sixteenth century, the grandson of a peasant. By the time he died, his fortune amounted to nearly two percent of European GDP. Not even John D. Rockefeller had that kind of wealth. Most people become rich by spotting opportunities, pioneering new technologies, or besting opponents in negotiations. Fugger did all that, but he had an extra quality that allowed him to rise even higher: nerve. In an era when kings had unlimited power, Fugger had the nerve to stare down heads of state and ask them to pay back their loans—with interest. It was this coolness and self-assurance, along with his inexhaustible ambition, that made him not only the richest man ever, but a force of history as well. Before Fugger came along it was illegal under church law to charge interest on loans, but he got the Pope to change that. He also helped trigger the Reformation and likely funded Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. His creation of a news service, which gave him an information edge over his rivals and customers, earned Fugger a footnote in the history of journalism. And he took Austria’s Habsburg family from being second-tier sovereigns to rulers of the first empire where the sun never set.The ultimate untold story, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived is more than a tale about the richest and most influential businessman of all time. It is a story about palace intrigue, knights in battle, family tragedy and triumph, and a violent clash between the 1 percent and everybody else. To understand our financial system and how we got it, it pays to understand Jacob Fugger.