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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 (250 )
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4.1 (155 )
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  •  
    john United States 08-08-10
    john United States 08-08-10 Member Since 2010

    John Foley

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great! If you can get through it..."

    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.

    14 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Boulder, CO, USA 03-27-10
    Chris Boulder, CO, USA 03-27-10 Member Since 2010
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    "Tiring, but informative"

    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.

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S. Clearwater, FL, United States 04-23-13
    S. Clearwater, FL, United States 04-23-13 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Excellent -"

    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 -

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Cumberland, ME, United States 08-30-10
    David Cumberland, ME, United States 08-30-10 Member Since 2006
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    "Outstanding"

    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.

    5 of 7 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 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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 Asheville, NC, United States 04-20-13
    Carolyn Asheville, NC, United States 04-20-13 Member Since 2011
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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
  •  
    roger BLUE ASH, OH, United States 02-05-13
    roger BLUE ASH, OH, United States 02-05-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great biography of an interesting life"

    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.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kenneth AUSTIN, TX, United States 06-23-12
    Kenneth AUSTIN, TX, United States 06-23-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "This could be a movie!"
    What made the experience of listening to The First Tycoon the most enjoyable?

    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.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David S. Zimmerman California 06-18-12
    David S. Zimmerman California 06-18-12 Member Since 2006

    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
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