Liliana C.

United States

The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism

January 14, 2021

​America in the twenty-first century is a nation of vast and specific interests, diverse, and complex. ... But the battle to make American capitalism more fair rages just as furiously.

Brilliant topic. Brilliant scope. Brilliant writing. Susan Berfield’s "The Hour of Fate" takes on a time of transition in our nation by focusing on Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan. It is the intriguing story of a banker and a president thrown together in the national emergencies even as they fought in court. And the outcome of the strike and the case would change the course of our history. This moment in history will take you away on an explosive journey through history, accompanied by colorful characters going through sticky situations. Roosevelt and Morgan, along with their allies and adversaries, paints the complex picture of balancing capitalism and equality--one that we are facing now as much as ever. This biography gives the reader a lens in which to see the dark side of capitalism that is resurgent in our lives today.

The well written account of an important era in U.S. history, the early 20th Century, also known as the end of the Gilded Age provide a rare glimpse into the relationships between some of the wealthiest industrialists and those who are governing the country. Theodore Roosevelt, a new president, takes on the power of corporations and those who control them. Not because he wants to bring down the capitalist system, but because he wants it to work better, and believes government's role is to work on behalf of all the people. Morgan, one of the most powerful man in the country, learns that he can remain super-rich, but must submit to some oversight by Washington, and cannot extend his power beyond certain limits.

The book covers a couple of important episodes in our history: the anthracite coal strike of 1902, which leads to the rise of a modern labor movement and labor laws, and the dismantling of the Northern Securities Company in 1904, which finally put some limits on unchecked corporate power and control. The best parts of the book, for me, were the legal cases engendered by Roosevelt's actions. The author does a commendable job of excerpting the lawyers' arguments. And we get an insightful behind the scenes look at the operation of the Supreme Court. You should read this just to learn a little bit about Justice John Marshall Harlan, or the connection between Roosevelt and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 

Perhaps the most beautiful and striking line in the whole book comes from Roosevelt. “A square deal for every man, big or small, rich or poor.” This quote is based on Roosevelt's square deal which reflected his three major goals: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection, also known as the three C's.

This scenery of America in the 1900s also demands comparisons to the present-day country. The change brought by the internet now-days is very similar to the change brought by the railroads long ago. New technologies, either today or a hundred years ago, created great wealth for their owners. Morgan, Carnegie, Gates, Rockefeller, Bezos, and others had many visions and plans that government couldn’t conceive. They pushed themselves into unknown territories and created massive empires filled with good, but as they grew and strengthened, these forces of innovation were seen in a way that discouraged further competition.

It's a powerful story told with real human perspectives way beyond the two leading men. The book is even more influential given what's been happening in the US in these past years. Not only will you feel smarter but you actually will be all the smarter having read it, as it is so thoroughly researched. What makes the book more interesting is its relevance to today's political and economic climate with questions about the roles of corporations and the laws. It's definitely a worthwhile, good read. For history or political readers alike, "The Hour of Fate" sets a strong stage of this time in America, making it a good recommendation.



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1 Comment
  • Cosmogyral

    Yes! I loved this book, it was so conceptualizing for its time. I think you could accent political rivalries more and the driving forces behind them, what it led a man to do. Great review, I want to go read it again now. :)

    about 1 month ago