The carefully researched The Guggenheims: A Family History is an intriguing look at one of the country's wealthiest and most influential families from the 1880s to the present, as well as a perceptive probe into the constant intermingling of business, politics and anti-Semitism during those years. Their story begins with Simon, who leaves Switzerland for America in 1847; Simon's oldest son Meyer produces seven sons and three daughters, whose lives the authors document in meticulous detail, beginning with their fortunes gained from mining in Colorado. Meyer passes on to his sons the "core Guggenheim principles" of maintaining strong family solidarity and always hiring the best talent available. By the 1890s, their "breakthrough decade," they move to New York City and take their place among the Jewish upper-crust, although compromising somewhat by joining an "assimilationist" congregation. With the fall of postwar mineral prices, the Guggenheims see a gradual retreat of their industrial empire. In the second two-thirds of the century, they become known primarily as patrons of the arts and sciences; by 1950, they are no longer listed among the nation's wealthiest families. The authors delve deeply into the lives of some of the more notable members of the second and third generations, beginning with Harry, Meyer's grandson, who befriends Lindbergh and helps to promote aviation in America. Solomon, Meyer's last male survivor, opens a museum for his growing art collection in 1939; the move to the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright building comes in 1959, long after his death. Peggy, daughter of Meyer's son Ben, leads a flamboyant life while assembling an impressive collection of western 20th-century art of her own.
Although very few family members still carry the last name Guggenheim, the authors conclude that a bond remains, created by their foundations and museums. This thoughtful and well-researched look at the family and the times in which it ro se and fell serves as an insightful journey through the whole of the 20th century.