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The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt | [T. J. Stiles]

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

In The First Tycoon, Stiles offers the first complete, authoritative biography of this titan, and the first comprehensive account of the Commodore's personal life. It is a sweeping, fast-moving epic, and a complex portrait of the great man. Vanderbilt, Stiles shows, embraced the philosophy of the Jacksonian Democrats and withstood attacks by his conservative enemies for being too competitive. He was a visionary who pioneered business models.
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2010

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2009

A gripping, groundbreaking biography of the combative man whose genius and force of will created modern capitalism.

Founder of a dynasty, builder of the original Grand Central, creator of an impossibly vast fortune, Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt is an American icon. Humbly born on Staten Island during George Washington's presidency, he rose from boatman to builder of the nation's largest fleet of steamships to lord of a railroad empire. Lincoln consulted him on steamship strategy during the Civil War; Jay Gould was first his uneasy ally and then sworn enemy; and Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, was his spiritual counselor. We see Vanderbilt help to launch the transportation revolution, propel the Gold Rush, reshape Manhattan, and invent the modern corporation - in fact, as T. J. Stiles elegantly argues, Vanderbilt did more than perhaps any other individual to create the economic world we live in today.

In The First Tycoon, Stiles offers the first complete, authoritative biography of this titan, and the first comprehensive account of the Commodore's personal life. It is a sweeping, fast-moving epic, and a complex portrait of the great man. Vanderbilt, Stiles shows, embraced the philosophy of the Jacksonian Democrats and withstood attacks by his conservative enemies for being too competitive. He was a visionary who pioneered business models. He was an unschooled fistfighter who came to command the respect of New York's social elite. And he was a father who struggled with a gambling-addicted son, a husband who was loving yet abusive, and, finally, an old man who was obsessed with contacting the dead.

The First Tycoon is the exhilarating story of a man and a nation maturing together: the powerful account of a man whose life was as epic and complex as American history itself.

©2009 T.J. Stiles; (P)2009 Random House

What the Critics Say

"Rousing . . . An exemplary biography." (Kirkus)

"For all its complexity, T.J. Stiles's appreciative account of Vanderbilt's derring-do is a model of clarity, briskness and brio, and Mark Deakins's unhurried, pleasantly grave delivery serves it well." (Washington Post Book World)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (326 )
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  •  
    steve j harwater 01-01-15
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    "Enjoyed very much"

    Great book, first time i read about vanderbilt. I reccomend it very much . I very interesting and powerfull man that had much to do with the usa growth

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Teresa PALM SPRINGS, CA, United States 06-03-14
    Teresa PALM SPRINGS, CA, United States 06-03-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Interesting back story to Gibbons v. Ogden"

    This is a perfectly fine biography but the only part I really found interesting was the back story to Gibbons v. Ogden, a famous and extremely important Supreme Court case.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carolyn 04-20-13
    Carolyn 04-20-13
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    "Love the history... thorough profile of the man"

    Great story....could have been better written. While I appreciate the old world language and the authenticity of the descriptions, I would have preferred the author come back to the present day language once in awhile. I think the change in language would have made the book easier to plow through....its quite a tome and requires endurance to finish. I own a home in Asheville where Vanderbilt's grandson built a beautiful "castle". I've always wondered about the origin of the money and the sensibilities that allowed such a grand vision come to fruition.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David S. California 06-18-12
    David S. California 06-18-12 Member Since 2015

    Gwynaro

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    "monumental work"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The First Tycoon to be better than the print version?

    Easier on the ears than the eyes


    What did you like best about this story?

    A wonderfully comprehensive history of America's crucial time period.


    Any additional comments?

    A great reference of great American historical significance.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nancy Cuyahoga Falls, OH, United States 06-09-12
    Nancy Cuyahoga Falls, OH, United States 06-09-12 Member Since 2002
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    "The start of modern American business"

    While a little long, this book tells about the rise of one of our greatest entrepreneurs. I really did not know much about the Vanderbilts and Cornelius' influence on modern transportation. I am a bit of a history fan so may not be for everyone but I highly recommend it for a detailed discussion of the beginnings of the Vanderbilt fortune. Narrator is good so it is easy to listen.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Sonoma, CA, United States 05-14-11
    Daniel Sonoma, CA, United States 05-14-11 Member Since 2015
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    "The First Tycoon: Cornelius Vanderbilt"

    A great example of American history. This book includes details at just the right pace.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    bonnie peregoy 11-26-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Missed opportunity"

    Exhaustingly researched and exhausting to (try to) listen to. I challenge anyone to stay focused on this narative for more than 5 minutes. This book is simply very poorly written, which is a shame, because the missed, fascinating story, buried in this endless listing of facts and dates, is the invention of the concept of investor ownership and corporations; purchase and sale of "shares of a company" and the birth of the NY stock exchange. I long to read a well written book of this story. The author of such a well written book will find a lot of facts and dates to use from this very poorly written one - if he can get through it.

    2 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carroll Alexandria, VA, United States 04-12-14
    Carroll Alexandria, VA, United States 04-12-14 Member Since 2011
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    "A great piece of history often missed"

    We rarely hear much of Vanderbilt today, but this well written work show the vast array of unique historical actions he touched… I found Cornelius Vanderbilt on the short list of historical actors who impressed me.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dane SAN RAFAEL, CA, United States 03-30-14
    Dane SAN RAFAEL, CA, United States 03-30-14 Member Since 2014
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    "A Delightful Experience"
    Any additional comments?

    The biography is interesting. But my highest compliments go to the author and reader of the book. I enjoyed listening to the authors point of view and interpretation of the facts and the reading was excellent.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    martha locust grove, ga, United States 12-15-13
    martha locust grove, ga, United States 12-15-13 Member Since 2013
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    "A Boring Recital of Facts"
    What would have made The First Tycoon better?

    More anecdote interwoven with facts. Listening to this is like listening to an entire semester of lecture in one very long session.


    What was most disappointing about T. J. Stiles’s story?

    Nothing brought the real man to light. Stiles should have read Brand's "Titan" before he wrote this.


    What three words best describe Mark Deakins’s performance?

    100 percent average.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The First Tycoon?

    None. I do not believe in abridging, even in a boring book.


    Any additional comments?

    VERY disappointed. I like long, factual biographies but only when the person becomes a person not just a vehicle for facts.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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