Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2010
National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2009A 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
"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)
Stiles not only inculcates the reader with the genius and incredible work ethic of Cornelius Vanderbilt but also the times and country through which he was molded and in which he left his mark. One will learn about the steamboat, and railroad industry, the development of the monetary, and open market systems in the U.S., the United States' transition from laissez faire to a more regulated system of economics and much more. Although there may be, at some points, a romanticizing of nineteenth century economics, the plethora of information, on one of America's greatest industrialist, one can obtain from this biography is unprecedented (I have read a few of the biographies on Vanderbilt), and will not be matched anytime soon. This book is great if one can absorb, by listening, a lot of information.
This is a very detailed account of the Commodore's life, as such, it tends to get windy at parts. The text is characterized by long departures into side roads mostly concerned with Vanderbilt's contemporaries, the politics of the day, and Vanderbilt family members. To someone interested in studying the enigmatic success of one of history's archetypal capitalists, these sidetracks are fatal to attention. The narration was consistent and unfailing however, the narrator has the odd habit of affecting a strange (almost mocking) voice when he reads quotations from the period.
An interesting and significant man. Comprehensive writing (the P.P. no-less), and clear, measured reading made this the most enjoyable audiobook I have ever listened to. If you like U.S. history or biography, this book needs to be on your list.
An interesting biography, pleasantly read. Has a slightly different structure of not quite following chronological order, but instead follows a chronological order of stories, focusing on each story for hours, before moving onto the next. I found this style enjoyable as you didn't have to wait hours/days/or weeks to find out what happened with a certain thing like you do in most biographies, but it was confusing as once the story was done, it jumps back to a previous year to begin at the beginning of another story. So there is this odd time ambiguity of about 5 years usually which my brain has had some trouble ordering. The effect is worth it though, as it does make for a better "story" than most biographies. Not many single human beings have ever waged "war" with guns, stocks, and ships the way the Commodore did; fascinating.
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.
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.
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.
More anecdote interwoven with facts. Listening to this is like listening to an entire semester of lecture in one very long session.
Nothing brought the real man to light. Stiles should have read Brand's "Titan" before he wrote this.
100 percent average.
None. I do not believe in abridging, even in a boring book.
VERY disappointed. I like long, factual biographies but only when the person becomes a person not just a vehicle for facts.
Love to read, and Audible has made the two-hour daily commute enjoyable!
Fascinating look at Cornelius Vanderbilt and his long, successful life. To start from an industrious young man working for his father's boat to become a "Commodore" of the steam boat industry, and then a railroad tycoon was amazing. Much of the book talks of his time from the late 1700s to the 1870s. A man of amazing energy, stamina and discipline. The book covers the changes caused by changes by steamboats and rail by moving communication, people and products. It also shows the changes in New York during this time, and Vanderbilt's role during the Civil War.
While interesting, I felt it could have been shorter. It was not as riveting as book "Lindbergh", "Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.", "The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright", "The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin" or many similar books that portray a person and their times. I became impatient towards the end. Another reviewer I read commented that he appreciated the epilogue because it helped make sense of the rest of the book. Sad but true.
Yes. It is historically accurate and presents both personal and business views of the character which allows the listener to fully develop an understanding of the persona of the first Vanderbilt. Like his type or not, remember he did business in a different time and the results often created wealth and livelihood for many. Besides the account of his life, this book describes well the times in which he lived.
Story did not drift from the chronological events that made up the life of the character. It is just the facts. ma'am.
Vanderbilt's favoritism of one child over others
Long but worth the listen especially for business historians
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