Making Monte Carlo

 

Mark Braude, Simon & Schuster, 289 pages, $27. Monaco likes to date its birth to the seizure of a local fortress by one Francesco Grimaldi on the night of Jan. 8, 1297, but its mutation into an enclave of wealth and privilege was far less heroic: It was a wily Frenchman — and former cardsharp — who understood that giving gambling an aura of class would attract royalty, millionaires and everyone else. From the moment François Blanc arrived in 1863, he set about building a palatial casino and an ­equally elegant Hotel de Paris. This telling by Stanford lecturer Mark Braude ends rather abruptly in 1930, thus denying us the age of Prince Rainier’s marriage to Grace Kelly. It is evident that the business model Blanc created 150 years ago has served Monaco well. It wasn’t Blanc’s first success. After speculating with stocks and playing the tables across Europe, he and his brother had set up shop in Germany’s Bad Homburg in 1840. In no time, the town was booming, with the new railroad system bringing gamblers from across Europe. In Monaco, Blanc acquired a struggling new company with an exclusive 50-year concession to run “games of chance.” In practice, the company, S.B.M., also took over running the 499-acre ­principality, providing successive princes with most of their income along with supplying water and gas to the locals, paving roads and building railroad stations. Change came quickly. In 1869, Monaco received nearly 200,000 visitors. As a result, Monaco’s Prince Charles abolished the country’s income tax, and Blanc, who died in 1877, created a dynasty for his family.

THE NEW YORK TIMES