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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

Overall

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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Story

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Sort by:
  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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

  • Overall

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

  • Overall

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Carroll
  • Hilo, HI, United States
  • 04-12-14

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Dane
  • SAN RAFAEL, CA, United States
  • 03-30-14

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • martha
  • locust grove, ga, United States
  • 12-15-13

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Epic account of an American business legend

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

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.

What did you like best about this story?

Story did not drift from the chronological events that made up the life of the character. It is just the facts. ma'am.

What about Mark Deakins’s performance did you like?

Characterizations

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Vanderbilt's favoritism of one child over others

Any additional comments?

Long but worth the listen especially for business historians

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Too Dry

What disappointed you about The First Tycoon?

Too detailed business information. Not enough of personal history.

Would you ever listen to anything by T. J. Stiles again?

No

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Delivered in very monotone, but would be hard not to with the material provided.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Momo
  • San Francisco
  • 02-12-13

History that reads like a great novel!

Where does The First Tycoon rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Very high - probAbly number one for historical works

Who was your favorite character and why?

The commodore of course. Rags to riches with cunning and a concern for integrity

What about Mark Deakins’s performance did you like?

Strong, clear voice

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I knew I couldn't listen to it in one setting as it it long but I was always eager to return to it.The story and characters so engrossing , I never felt lost when I began again.

Any additional comments?

Excellent

0 of 1 people found this review helpful