Joseph Sassoon, "The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire" (Pantheon Books, 2022)


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The Sassoons were one of the great merchant families of the nineteenth century, alongside such names as the Jardines, the Mathesons, and the Swires. They dominated the India-China opium trade through the David Sassoon and E.D. Sassoon companies. They became Indian tycoons, English aristocracy, Hong Kong board directors, and Shanghai real estate moguls.

Yet unlike the Kadoories and Swires, the Sassoon companies no longer exist today.

Professor Joseph Sassoon in his latest book The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire (Pantheon, 2022) helps to answer that question, from the Sassoons’ start fleeing Baghdad for Bombay, through to Victor Sassoon’s investments in the Shanghai before the Second World War.

In this interview, Joseph and I talk about the Sassoon family: from David, the patriarch of the family, through to Victor Sassoon, Shanghai real estate mogul. And we also think about the Sassoons as a business: how did this great, global family trading house decline–and are there lessons for the businesses of today?

Joseph Sassoon is Professor of History and Political Economy and Director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. He is also a Senior Associate Member at St Antony’s College, Oxford and a Trustee of the Bodleian Library. His previous books include the prize-winning Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime (Cambridge University Press: 2012), The Iraqi Refugees: The New Crisis in the Middle East (I. B. Taurus, 2010), and Anatomy of Authoritarianism in the Arab Republics (Cambridge University Press: 2016).

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of The Sassoons. Follow on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at@nickrigordon.

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