The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, World’s Richest Man


At a ceremony in Lisbon last Thursday His Excellency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, President of Portugal, helped launch Jonathan Conlin’s new biography of the Anglo-Armenian oil baron Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955). Published in English by Profile Books as Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, World’s Richest Man, Jonathan’s book coincides with a year of festivities marking the 150th anniversary of Gulbenkian’s birth. In addition to helping create familiar industry titans such as Shell and Total, Gulbenkian was also an art collector and philanthropist: the Gulbenkian Foundation he endowed remains the world’s 36th wealthiest charitable foundation, and the Gulbenkian Museum is one of the most popular tourist sites in Lisbon.

Conlin’s biography has sparked a national conversation in Portugal, where the Foundation has enjoyed a large profile since its establishment in 1956, by drawing attention to Gulbenkian’s original vision for his foundation – which Gulbenkian intended to benefit all of humanity, rather than any one nation. In his speech the President praised Conlin’s book for its style and the rigour of the research underpinning it.

The book is the product of a five-year research project at the University of Southampton funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation, which saw Conlin working with original sources in ten different countries, written in nine different languages. Mr Five Per Cent has also received plaudits in UK, with all major newspapers carrying reviews; The Economist praised it as “meticulous”. Further launch events will take place in London, Paris, Los Angeles, Boston and New York over the next three months, a testament to the broad ramifications of Gulbenkian’s career as well as the stature he enjoys among the Armenian diaspora.

You can listen to an interview with the author by Dr Crister Petley atop the page.

Mr. Five Per Cent is available for purchase via Amazon (including on Kindle devices), Waterstones, and Southampton Books.

A pre-production copy of Dr Conlin’s 2016 article in Turcica, ‘The amiras and the Ottoman Empire, 1880-1923: the case of the Gulbenkians’ is available via the University of Southampton under a Creative Common (attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives) license.

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