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.
The author was fair with Vanderbilt. Many historians castigate all 19th century businessmen as villains and certainly some were. But Vanderbilt, like Rockefeller, did not make his money with stock manipulations, he made it with good management. He had his faults and the author points them out, but he also had his virtues. A good read
Absolutely fascinating subject. The book has a good pace, and is well written. While I do agree that a heavier-hand by an editor could have improved the book, the detailed approach is a small price to pay for this biography. Worth the read -
As a fan of business/economic/history books this one provided everything I wanted. Conrelius was one of the most single minded folks I've learned about so far. This book puts the reader on the front lines of the deals and serves as a great guide to starting and running a business.
This book delves into Cornelius' personal life as well but I was more concerned with the business aspects and this book delivered.
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.
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.
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.
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