As President Obama began to unveil sweeping government programs to restore the crippled economy, the public and media drew numerous comparisons with the actions of Franklin Roosevelt, who faced the grim prospects of the Great Depression almost eighty years earlier. Steven Fenberg tells the story of Jesse Holman Jones, the Houston businessman who went to Washington as an appointed official and provided the pragmatic leadership that salvaged capitalism during the Great Depression and militarized industry in time to fight and win World War II.
Jones—an entrepreneur with an eighth- grade education who built Houston’s tallest buildings of the time—was considered to be the most powerful person in the nation, next to President Roosevelt. As chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Jones saved farms, homes, banks and businesses; built infrastructure; set the price of gold with FDR each morning in the president’s bedroom; and in the process made a substantial profit for the government. Then Jones turned the RFC’s focus from domestic economics to global defense.
In writing the comprehensive, definitive biography of this imposing twentieth-century figure, Fenberg had unrestricted access to the collections of Houston Endowment—the philanthropic foundation established by Jesse and Mary Gibbs Jones in 1937—and utilized the archives of the Library of Congress, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the Houston Public Library, and an impressive array of other sources. According to Fenberg, Jones recognized that he would prosper only if his community thrived, a belief that directed him to combine capitalism and public service to strengthen his community, to restore the fortunes of his country, and to save nations.
As we grapple today with economic recovery, the role of government, and reliance on other nations for vital resources, Unprecedented Power offers a fascinating and timely perspective. Students and scholars of government and business history, as well as policy makers, regional historians, and interested general readers, will find this book an indispensable addition to their libraries.
What Readers Are Saying:
"Jesse Jones is one of those vital figures who has inexplicably slipped into the historical shadows. Now Steven Fenberg has given us a wonderful new biography of a man who played a critical role in the most tumultuous years of the American Century, bringing Jones back to vivid life."--Jon Meacham, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and the bestselling Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of An Epic Friendship
"Fenberg revives the singular accomplishments that Jesse Jones made to the economy and defence of America...Fenberg is community affairs officer for the Houston Endowment. He initiated the oral history project that became the PBS award winning documentary, 'Brother, Can You Spare a Billion: The Story of Jesse H. Jones.' Fenberg is a Houston native. His parents, Eleanor and Bennet Fenberg, were founding members of Congregation Emanu El. Fenberg will appear at this year's Jewish Book & Arts Fair on Nov. 13 at 11 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center."--Aaron Howard, Local Literati
"Fenberg's biography of Jones, Unprecedented Power, shows the Houston magnate leading government into a rescue of American camitalism through lending and public-private partnerships in infrastructure and new industries."--Jim Landers, Dallas Morning News
"The biography is a fascinating read about the history of Houston and the man with an eighth-grade education who helped build the downtown skyline, saved the city's banks during the Great Depression, and began one of the most recognized philanthropic institutions. But more than that, it speaks ot the city's problems today."--Marene Gustin, OutSmart Magazine
"Given his unprecedented power—which provides the apt title of Steven Fenberg’s meaty new biography—it is no wonder than in 1941 TIME magazine dubbed Jones the second most powerful man in Washington (after President Franklin D. Roosevelt). Roosevelt himself teasingly called him ‘Jesus H. Jones.’…Fenberg’s comprehensive biography should revive interest in this remarkable capitalist and public servant."-- Mark Reutter, Wilson Quarterly
"Steven Fenberg’s recent book…reads something like a grand invention: a boy with an eighth-grade education becomes the most powerful man in the nation (next to President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and helps the federal government, using social programs, rescue millions of people and generate revenue.”--Cecily Sailer, The Texas Observer
“The name of Jesse H. Jones is legendary in the annals of our city's history. Now, 55 years after his death, a definitive biography has been written.”--Betty T. Chapman, Houston Business Journal
“Credited with helping to establish Houston as a focal point of industry, Jesse H. Jones has been feted for decades as one of the country's most revered kings of capitalism…His exploits are laid out in a new biography, “Unprecedented Power.”--Houston Business Journal
“Biography of Jesse Jones, the Houston entrepreneur who helped save the country from the Great Depression.”--Textra Credit, Texas Monthly
“Fenberg expands on the PBS special he produced a decade ago and offers insight into a man whose economic and political acumen would come in very handy today.”--James Renovitch, Austin Chronicle
“If you don't know about Jesse H. Jones and the heavy hands he played in Houston and Washington in the last century, you should read this book.”--Jim Landers, Dallas Morning News
“A somewhat-forgotten page of U.S. history that holds enormous relevance today.”--Kirkus Reviews
"Steven Fenberg's book, "Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good," reveals the life of a man who wielded great power in business and government circles on a national livel."--Houston Business Journal
"Fenberg has two objectives:to tell the story of this largely forgotten figure and to demonstrate how his ideas could be relevant to our present financial crisis...meaty new biography...Fenberg's comprehensive biography should revive interest in this remarkable capitalist and public servant."--Mark Reutter, Wilson Quarterly
“In this meticulously researched, briskly written biography, Steven Fenberg reconstructs the signal life and career of a man he calls “[t]he most powerful person in the nation during the Great Depression and World War II—next to Franklin Roosevelt” (p. 1). Fenberg makes a strong case for Jones’s influence and, in so doing, not only recovers the forgotten history of this key player but also intervenes forcefully in contemporary historical and political debates about the New Deal and the nature of American politics. Fenberg’s biography makes clear just how deeply invested in saving capitalism the New Deal was. Jones’s career illustrates the New Deal and wartime mobilization programs for what they were: the close collaboration between business and government (p. 263). Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good illuminates the complex workings of that partnership and the formative role of businessmen in shaping it. Recovering the history of a largely forgotten New Deal figure, Fenberg’s biography reminds readers just how much New Dealers accomplished and how they accomplished it.”—Bruce J. Schulman, Journal of Southern History
“Steven Fenberg has done Jones justice in this thoroughly researched and meticulously written biography. This is a book that shows the unfolding of Jones’s life as Jones lived it. For example, the book’s organization, not into numbered and argument driven chapters but into chronological slices of Jones’s life, reveals how a boy from rural Texas with only an eighth-grade education came to be one of the most important builders of a city and saviors of a nation. Prior to the publication of Unprecedented Power, journalists and acquaintances of the power Texas had written the only biographies of Jones. For those who want to know how Jones viewed the world in which he operated, this is the book for them. Unprecedented Power will stand for years as the definitive biography of Jones, and will be read not only by Texas historians, but also by scholars interested in national governance.”—Nancy Beck Young, Southwestern Historical Quarterly