Joseph SassoonJul 12, 2023
The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire
Today I talked to Joseph Sassoon about his book The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire (Pantheon, 2022)
They were one of the richest families in the world for two hundred years, from the 19th century to the 20th, and were known as ‘the Rothschilds of the East.’
Mesopotamian in origin, and for more than forty years the chief treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad and Basra, they were forced to flee to Bushir on the Persian Gulf; David Sassoon and sons starting over with nothing, and beginning to trade in India in cotton and opium.
The Sassoons soon were building textile mills and factories, and setting up branches in shipping in China, and expanding beyond, to Japan, and further west, to Paris and London. They became members of British parliament; were knighted; and owned and edited Britain’s leading newspapers, including The Sunday Times and The Observer.
And in 1887, the exalted dynasty of Sassoon joined forces with the banking empire of Rothschild and were soon joined by marriage, fusing together two of the biggest Jewish commerce and banking families in the world.
Against the monumental canvas of two centuries of the Ottoman Empire and the changing face of the Far East, across Europe and Great Britain during the time of its farthest reach, Joseph Sassoon gives us a riveting generational saga of the making of this magnificent family dynasty.
Geraldine Gudefin is a French-born modern Jewish historian researching Jewish family life, legal pluralism, and the migration experiences of Jews in France and the United States. She is currently a research fellow at the Hebrew University’s Avraham Harman Research Institute of Contemporary Jewry, and is completing a book titled An Impossible Divorce? East European Jews and the Limits of Legal Pluralism in France, 1900-1939.