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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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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Best book ever

A true New Yorker and Legend. Gives a sense of possibility and the first real tycoon. Great story telling with facts.

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great story

this is probably thw mist balanced and fair rendition of the great robber barons

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Very informal book

Nice a bit long , it can be a shorter book !
Very informal book
I would recommend

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If you are an economist...

Any additional comments?

There are few books that I give up on, but having tried over and over to listen with interest, I am almost ready to say, "No more." Perhaps this could be considered a scholarly work; maybe more suited as a textbook. One needs a flowchart of characters and a passion for and/or a degree in economics to appreciate the plethora of facts recited in this tome. If I were forced to consume the facts in this book, I would prefer to have a print copy, list of characters and an atlas of the world and United States.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great!

Didn't have a solid expectation but thrilled with what I learned. Narrator was the right selection for the book. Clear and easy to listen to for long stretches.

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Good book and the Narrator is Awesome

Cool story on how Vanderbilt built himself into a force of nature. Details on his style of business combat was awesome

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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

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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.

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A Fascinating Life and History of early America

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.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.