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Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America's Rise to Economic Dominance, 1860-1900 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684813513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684813516
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,416,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The epicenter of the American economy since the Civil War and the birthplace of modern capitalism, New York City played a significant role in transforming "a small nation of scattered farms into the world's leading economic power," writes Thomas Kessner. Focusing on the four decades between 1860 and 1900, Kessner engagingly illustrates how Gotham City, in addition to funding the Union victory and financing the railroads heading west, also became the nation's busiest port and the center of banking, information, and manufacturing by attracting the most driven, energetic, competitive, and innovative people in the world. Woven into his narrative are detailed portraits of legendary individuals such as John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbuilt, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan, all of whom defined the Gilded Age and ushered in the American century. Possessing the right stuff at precisely the right moment in history, these men took full advantage of the permissive, even chaotic, business climate of New York to create colossal wealth for themselves as well as the nation, rewriting the rules of commerce and investing the process: "No succeeding generation enjoyed the economic power, the open political atmosphere, and the shaping influence available to this group of capitalists," Kessner writes. This remarkable boom (and occasional bust) period also triggered an ethical shift in which "business decisions came to turn less on what was right or good, than on what was strictly legal." Greed and corruption were rampant during this time as many unscrupulous speculators hurried to cash in before regulations closed loopholes and laws imposed rigid rules of conduct.

Kessner does an excellent job of capturing the excitement of this era in which the American economy was transformed from a vast network of many small businesses to a relatively few number of large corporations. In presenting this rich story, the author makes clear that the city's greatest asset was the equal opportunity it offered—a claim that still holds true today, making the allure of New York as strong as ever. --Shawn Carkonen

Review

Mike Wallace Co-author of Pulitzer Prize winner Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 There are many capitalisms -- each marked by the culture and society from which it emerged. As Thomas Kessner reminds us in this graceful and lucid narrative, America's corporate economy was forged in late-nineteenth-century New York City, and, to this day, it bears the imprint of tussles among the businessmen, labor organizers, political leaders, and urban reformers of Gilded Age Gotham. -- Review

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on April 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In his book, "Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America's Rise to Economic Dominance, 1860-1900", Thomas Kessner has taken what might be considered a dry subject and made it a swift-moving narrative of power, ego, and intrigue, on the one hand, and another narrative of civic pride, fiscal genius, and apparent historic inevitability.
What becomes clear in this epic story is that everything we associate with New York can be seen as deriving from its economic power. Certainly, the immense financial institutions, the extravagant city lifestyle, and the old shipping and railroad dominance of the city come to mind when we think of New York City's amazing economic influence. But Professor Kessner also makes it clear that other New York trademarks would have been impossible without it: the parks and the Brooklyn Bridge; the philanthropic endeavors and museums (sparked by such men as John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan); even its consolidation of all five boroughs into Greater New York in 1898 is seen as a reflection of the corporate consolidations going on in the business community. This is a fascinating thesis that is easily proved by Professor Kessner's impressive research.
What holds the book together and keeps the reader's attention (well, this reader at least), is the cast of irascible characters and their single-minded purpose to make lots of money. Not surprisingly these men progress from the merely greedy to the mercenary and cold-blooded. Compared to Carnegie, Gould, Morgan, and Vanderbilt, men like John J. Astor, A.T. Stewart and Moses Taylor come off looking like Cub Scouts.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Anderson G on July 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is highly readable, although written by a history professor, and reads like almost like a novel, with plots, sub-plots and a great story.

The book describes the psychogeography of New York City in the last half of the 19th century and the brilliant, eccentric and many times shady: businessmen, politicians, civic reformers, professionals, labor leaders and others who formed the character of the great city while working out the structure and basic methods of corporate capitalism. The author explains why new york was aptly disposed for this formative role, versus other potential suitors such as Boston or Philadelphia. It also gives some insights into the urban development of new york, which, in spite of sincere efforts and unique achievements (e.g. Central Park) by many of its more inspired civic doyens, seems to reflect the requirements of business and the vestiges of political corruption: vertical growth and size were the main criteria, versus the more human dimensions dictated by a residentially-focussed city such as Paris. Indeed, as an Irishman, I was somewhat dismayed to read about the misdeeds of the Tammany Hall clique. Alas, the truth hurts, and professor Kesson deals with the
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on November 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Capital City is a scholarly examination of the development of New York City in the age of unfettered Capitalism when great fortunes were made overnight. The book explains in great detail how characters such as Moses Taylor, Cornelieus Vanderbilt and Jay Gould contributed in ways both beneficial and harmful to the growing American economy as well as to the economic and civic life of New York itself. The sense of a wide open country with all economic activity being governed out of the growing financial community gathering strenghth in lower Manhattan at the end of the Civil War is clearly conveyed.
This is a very entertaining and enlightening book. If you have an interest in History, Economics or Finance then I would highly recommend this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on April 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In his book, "Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America's Rise to Economic Dominance, 1860-1900", Thomas Kessner has taken what might be considered a dry subject and made it a swift-moving narrative of power, ego, and intrigue, on the one hand, and another narrative of civic pride, fiscal genius, and apparent historic inevitability.
What becomes clear in this epic story is that everything we associate with New York can be seen as deriving from its economic power. Certainly, the immense financial institutions, the extravagant city lifestyle, and the old shipping and railroad dominance of the city come to mind when we think of New York City's amazing economic influence. But Professor Kessner also makes it clear that other New York trademarks would have been impossible without it: the parks and the Brooklyn Bridge; the philanthropic endeavors and museums (sparked by such men as John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan); even its consolidation of all five boroughs into Greater New York in 1898 is seen as a reflection of the corporate consolidations going on in the business community.
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