San Francisco Magazine gives Towers of Gold a Great Review The editor of San Francisco Magazine, Bruce Kelley, has written a strong review of Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California. I think the article captures the spirit of the book.

Here it is, from the November 2008 edition of the magazine:

Visionary financier Isaias Hellman was the Warren Buffett and Alan Greenspan of early California rolled into one.

He arrived in LA as a practically penniless, 16-year old German Jew when there were only 300 other Europeans in town. Three decades later, he controlled much of the booming city’s capital, land, and public works – and then he bought Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco through a merger, earning headlines as the West’s richest man. Hellman starred in so many aspects of the West’s phoenix-like rise between the Civil War and the Depression, that he became our Zelig, only with a really thick portfolio.

The banker’s bonds with the financial elite – fellow Jews like Meyer Lehman (his brother-in-law), gentiles like Collis Huntington — made skittish depositors in both cities less prone to panic.

Still, this giant figure had been lost to history until local journalist Frances Dinkelspiel, Hellman’s great-great granddaughter (and the sister of this magazine’s president), stumbled upon his papers at the California Historical Society. Eureka! Many underappreciated developments in California’s astonishing adolescence–the emergence of SoCal, the UC system, post-1906 San Francisco, Hiram Johnson, Lake Tahoe, Southern Pacific Railroad, Hetch Hetchy, U.S. Zionism, you name it —  are recovered here in elegantly restrained prose.

Bruce Kelley
San Francisco Magazine
November 2008


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