A family affair
Dynasties: fortune and misfortune in the world's great family businesses
David Landes's Dynasties is a series of case studies of families in business, a topic that has received surprisingly little attention in mainstream economic literature.
Landes does a good job of picking the obvious cases of interest (banking dynasties such as the Rothschilds), as well as some less orthodox choices (such as the Toyodas, the car manufacturers). Other subjects are more arguable – John D Rockefeller, for example, is more a case of a successful businessman than a dynasty.
Landes tends to digress into detailing the lives of the rich and famous. The overall conclusion is that family businesses are hard to keep up, and most of the cases in this book end up under the control of outside managers. Those that seem most successful come from cultures that are predisposed towards family arrangements, such as the Agnellis in Italy or the Toyodas in Japan). But, as a general rule, inheritors find money too much of a tempting distraction from the hard work of running a business.
Despite sometimes being over-reliant on secondary sources, and a jarring informal style, Landes has produced an entertaining account with an original approach to the genre of business narrative.