American Colossus and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 Hardcover – October 12, 2010

See all 9 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
"Please retry"
$10.75 $5.83
Unknown Binding
"Please retry"


More to Explore
Read an excerpt from American Colossus. [PDF]

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385523335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385523332
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this timely study, University of Texas historian Brands (Traitor to His Class) describes the rise of the great corporate capitalists after the Civil War. J. Pierpont Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie constituted an trinity of power-obsessed individuals who instinctively understood that wealth was the ultimate political weapon. They defined the cold-blooded authority of big business. Fascinating detours away from the tale of corporate empires examine the Reconstruction process in the South, the Indian Wars of the West, the opening of the Great Plains, immigration in the East, and the rise of organized labor and the agrarian reformers. Effectively, excerpts from the first-person accounts of Booker T. Washington, Black Elk, Jacob Riis, and others convey the drama of the time. Perhaps the only significant omission in this fast-paced, engrossing narrative is a tendency to dwell on political doctrines that sought to repudiate or restrain capitalism while only briefly discussing the dogma of Herbert Spencer's social Darwinism, which favored the monopolists.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Praise for American Colossus

"Mr. Brands, a terrific writer who commands his material, handles this sprawling, complicated story with authority and panache. A book that might have been a worthy but boring tome turns out to be as close as serious history gets to a page turner....American Colossus is a first-rate overview of one of the most important periods in American history, one without which the American Century could not have happened."
—John Steele Gordon, The New York Times

"A superb new history….This is a big, brash narrative running from the Confederate surrender at Appomattox to the trust busting of Theodore Roosevelt….I read swaths of this book twice, just to savor Brands’ storytelling and mastery of detail."
—James Pressley, Bloomberg News

"Mr. Brands paints a vivid portrait of both this understudied age and those industrialists still introduced by high school teachers as ‘robber barons’: Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan….As Mr. Brands relates the tycoons’ stories, he drops some anecdotes wonderfully relevant today."
The Wall Street Journal

"An excellent book….H. W. Brands is a smart, lively writer… [who] demonstrates, as the best historians do, that past is prologue."
Dallas Morning News

Praise for The Age of Gold
“A fine, robust telling of one of the greatest adventure stories in history.”
—David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of John Adams

“A barn burner . . . Masterfully sketched historical figures, subtly developed themes, and especially well-braided stories . . . Eureka!”
San Francisco Chronicle

Praise for Traitor to His Class
(Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography)

“This is a rare book indeed, shedding new light and brilliant insight upon an elusive subject we thought we knew well . . . Traitor to His Class will quickly emerge as the finest one-volume biography of FDR.”
—David Oshinsky, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for History

“H. W. Brands has accomplished a remarkable feat in this terrific work…. He has brought to vivid life the central figures in his story . . . while at the same time providing a fresh understanding of the rich historical context for their thoughts and actions at every step along the way.”
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and author of Team of Rivals

“This may well be the best general biography of Franklin Roosevelt we will see for many years to come.”
Christian Science Monitor

Praise for The First American
(Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography)

“H. W. Brands has given us the authoritative Franklin biography for our time.”
—Joseph J. Ellis, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Founding Brothers

“A biography with a rich cast of secondary characters and a large and handsome stock of historical scenery…This is a Franklin to savor.”
Wall Street Journal

Praise for Lone Star Nation

“Sweeping and specific . . . [Brands] writes the story with clarity and vigor . . . .Clearly adds to our knowledge of an era when men rode to the sound of guns and honor was a comprehensible concept.”
Washington Post Book World

“Brands [is] on the path to becoming the preeminent popular historian of his generation.”
Chicago Tribune

Praise for Andrew Jackson
“A great story . . . Serves up everything you might expect in a ripping yarn: murderous duels, savage Indian raids, equally savage counterattacks.”
Washington Post Book World

“Old Hickory rides again in Brands’ elegantly written and carefully researched biography . . . A must-read!”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award

More About the Author

H.W. Brands taught at Texas A&M University for sixteen years before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History. His books include Traitor to His Class, Andrew Jackson, The Age of Gold, The First American, and TR. Traitor to His Class and The First American were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Ask me anything!
Corrupt politicians aren't corrupted by interest groups, but rather by their own greed, which is enabled through the political power they can utilize.
A Reader from San Diego
Highly recommended for both history nerds and those who love a good read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 110 people found the following review helpful By M. E. Llorens on October 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If the term "economic history" makes your eyes glaze over as you think about a dry analysis of GDP projections and steel tonnage figures, fear not. There isn't a single mention of inflation or per capita income in here. Think more along the lines of "Ken Burns: The Gilded Age of Capitalism." Although the subject matter is susceptible to drowning in rivers of mind-numbing statistical data, the author takes a single-mindedly narrative approach to his material. Moreover, economics is not really the sole focus: Custer's last, disastrous campaign; Irish and Chinese immigration; and the rise of Jim Crow are also featured in the book. Usually, the focus is either a major figure of the period or a representative individual. Biographical sketches of J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller, and Carnegie are a must, of course, but you also get to read about Little Big Horn from the viewpoint of a thirteen-year-old Sioux and Booker T. Washington's rise from slavery to national prominence toward the end of the century.

The tone is neither elegiac nor revisionist. The author deals in a relatively straightforward manner with both the positive aspects of the booming American economy and the seamier sides, such as racial tensions, corruption and labor conflict.

A perusal of the books cited gave me the impression that "American Colossus" is not based on either the latest scholarship or any fresh archival work. For example, the narration of Jay Gould's attempt to corner the gold market is almost exclusively based on the printed proceedings of a congressional investigation. And for a more compelling treatment of John Wesley Harding, I recommend checking out Simon Schama's chapter "American Plenty" in his "
...Read more ›
10 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Many people who have thought about the United States have seen a tension between its commitments to democracy and capitalism. The former is based upon equality. Capitalism is based upon an ethic of freedom which allows individuals to go in their own directions which, in economic life, quickly can lead to inequality. In his new book, "American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865 -- 1900, H.W. Brands examines the uneasy and shifting relationship between democracy and capitalism during America's Gilded Age following the Civil War. Brands is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written prolifically and popularly about a wide range of subjects in American history from Andrew Jackson to both Theorore and Franklin Roosevelt.

The book is written in a popular, narrative style with little technical discussion or statistics. Yet the book is well-informed, thorough, and balanced. It gave me an overview and refresher on its era in a good broad-based account.

In some respects, the book works less well. With its accessibility, the book tends to be thin on economic issues. As a result, the discussions of the attempt of financiers to corner the gold market early in the Grant administration, the panics of 1873 and 1893, and the controversy over free silver both lack detail and are hard to follow in specifics. Although he mentions it at the beginning and end of the book, Brands is not as clear as he might be about the effect of the lack of central bank in the United States between Andrew Jackson's destruction of the Second Bank of the United States and Woodrow Wilson's creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. This lack was the source of much of the instability he describes.
Read more ›
7 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Shaun Hervey on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Although the title might suggest a focus on the robber barons of the Gilded Age, Brands actually offers a more general history of the Post-Civil War era, albeit with an emphasis on economics. He covers all the geographical areas (North, South, East, West), social classes (rich, poor, working class, middle class, immigrant, native) and ethnicities (Native American, Northern and Southern European, Jewish, Chinese, African American). Brands is particularly adept at demonstrating the inextricable ties between capitalism and government, but without overburdening the reader with statistics and dates.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By LawoftheWest on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was disappointed. The book was like a freshman survey history course. Brands is skillful in his use of words, like an accomplished reporter or novelist. He is an easy read. However, to me the book lacked substance. It did not contain any original material or original research that I could find. The title of the book was misleading. It had little to do with capitalism. Also, Brands sometimes quoted himself from other of his own books as his source of materials.

Recently I was at a Brand's book talk and signing event. I asked him how he has time to write 23 books in 24 years. I mentioned that Stephen Ambrose was accused of many inaccuracies while writing many books. Then, I said that Stiles took 5 years researching and writing his book about Vanderbilt. Brand's response was that all books have inaccuracies and that Ambrose sold lots of books. After thinking over his response for several days I concluded that Brand's test is not accuracy, but sales, as the measure of a writer of history.

In perspective, to put where I am coming from, the kind of books I like, for example, are "Ratification" by Maier and "Albion's Seed" by David Hackett Fischer. Others might like Brand's book, but I was looking for more.
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews