‘The People’s Banker’ spotlights Bank of America’s founder’s historic role

Meshal Muhammad

In “A.P Giannini: The People’s Banker,” author Francesca Valente paints prominent Gilded Age banker Amadeo PietroGiannini as a hardworking Italian immigrant who went on to found and expand what is now Bank of America Corp.

From a young age, the curious and hardworking Giannini was a natural-born problem solver. After San Francisco was half-destroyed by an earthquake and burned by a fire in 1906, he took to the streets and offered loans to business owners.

“We are going to rebuild San Francisco, and it will be better than ever,” he said, according to Valente.

Giannini brought hope to the city, encouraging people to not leave but to help rebuild and restore its greatness.

The biography is short and easy to read, even while packed with information.

Valente gives context where it is necessary, without overwhelming the reader. This not only makes it easier to understand why Giannini made his decisions but also allows the reader to grasp the historical setting they were made in. It helps the reader digest the information in a timelier manner, unlike with other biographies.

The Giannini family was influential in many spheres and avenues, from financing the building of the Golden Gate Bridge to being early investors in the film and theater industry. It even provided crucial loans and capital in the making of ships and aircraft after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.

There are several themes that prevail throughout the book, a major one being the discrimination that Italian immigrants faced.

Giannini faced discrimination throughout his career. Regulatory authorities and wealthy New York City bankers launched an array of attacks to defame him and drive Bank of America into the ground.

As a young man, Giannini saw how reluctant banks were to give Italian immigrants loans, and when they did, the loans were at absurdly high costs. He witnessed how minority communities suffered due to these policies across California, leaving a mark on him.

When he started Bank of Italy — which would later become Bank of America following a merger — Giannini made sure to provide loans with low-interest rates to immigrant business owners in his community.

“We’re here to do business with everybody and anybody who needs help — regardless of nationality or place of business or newness or smallness,” he said, according to Valente.

Over 2 million Italian Americans and Italian immigrants live in the greater New York City metropolitan area, with over 800,000 residing in one of the five boroughs. This makes Italians the largest ethnic group in the area.

Despite these numbers, it is unclear how many students at CUNY colleges make up that demographic.

Giannini is only one of many Italian immigrants who have left a mark on the nation, helping make it what it is today.

Readers are encouraged to read this book so they can learn more about the positive impact immigrants have had on society and how crucial they are to the American economy, if not for the inspiring story of a phenomenal banker.