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Mellon: An American Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 3, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this volume, the first published "full-scale life" of financial pioneer Andrew Mellon-who would help propel the country to economic domination, serve as servant and scapegoat for powerful White House administrations, and establish the National Gallery of Art-biographer Cannadine (In Churchill's Shadow) tackles every aspect of a towering American figure who was nevertheless "shy in life and secretive in business." Beginning with the boyhood immigration to Pittsburgh of Mellon's domineering father, Cannadine chronicles the busy buildup of Mellon's early career, as he involves himself with his father's successful real estate projects and enters the world of Pittsburgh's wealthy industrial elite. His largely obstacle-free ascension, however, packs the book's first third with humdrum lists of business transactions. Tellingly, the chapter titled "The First Scandal" provides the book's first meaty narrative: the disastrous collapse of Mellon's mid-life marriage to the young Englishwoman Nora McMullen. Following this, Mellon becomes a more dynamic character and his money takes a more secondary role. Mellon's contentious stint as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover provides interesting insight into the clash of democracy (which Mellon was never such a fan of) and high finance; it also provides Mellon a telling conflict between his responsibility to the country's failing post-war economy and his desire to re-engage his estranged daughter Ailsa. Cannadine does not shy from pointing out the hypocrisy and insensitivity in his subject-especially in his devastating behavior toward his unfaithful wife-but remains sympathetic throughout, providing a balanced look at a supremely principled businessman who made some startlingly unprincipled choices. Though a scholarly work with limited popular appeal, this is a valuable, comprehensive look at an important American life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This is the first comprehensive biography of Andrew Mellon, the powerful American financier, secretary of the treasury, and art collector. Like Rockefeller and Carnegie, Mellon came to symbolize the era of the U.S. rise to industrial might, with all the benefits and abuses that entailed. Professor Cannadine brings compassion and fairness to his subject. At first glance, Mellon is neither an appealing nor an especially interesting character. Mellon's father, Thomas, had already made his fortune, so Andrew's story lacks the rags-to-riches aspect that made Andrew Carnegie such a compelling figure. In personal relations, Mellon was stiff, diffident, and self-absorbed. His only marriage ended disastrously, and his relations with his children were problematic. But, as Cannadine eloquently shows, Mellon was a true genius at the art of making money. He was a brilliant practitioner of and a true believer in -laissez-faire capitalism. As secretary of the treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, he used his financial acumen to cut both taxes and the national debt. Although he came to philanthropy late in life, the donation of his private art collection and massive subsidizing of a museum to house it have greatly enriched the nation's cultural life. Despite Mellon's personal shortcomings, Cannadine's recounting of Mellon's public career make this a worthy contribution to our understanding of the man and his era. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679450327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679450320
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 2.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By JAD on January 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As I was nearing the end of this large and thorough biography of one of America's most prominent plutocrats, I was rooting for nonagenarian Andrew Mellon to live a few more years--just long enough to see the completion of his marvelous dream project and generous gift to the nation, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Sadly, Mellon did not live to see it completed, but this biographer holds our interest to the very end, in a book that comprises 620 pages of narrative and many more of notes and which took the author more than a decade to research and write.

Having previously read both father Judge Thomas' and son Paul's autobiographies (both well worth your time and attention), and having lived in and around Andrew's milieu for many years, I knew the basic outlines of Mellon's life. The Scots-Irish Presbyterian boyhood growing up in what had been the Negley estate, the partnership with his father in Judge Thomas' investment forays, the lifelong friendship with business demagogue H C Frick, the late and ill-fated marriage to Englishwoman Nora McMullen, and the undemonstrative relationship with his children, not to mention the mature years during which Mellon's fortune burgeoned and consequently, his reshaping of the Pittsburgh urban scene. Anyone who has lived and worked within an hour's radius of "The Cathedral of Earning" as Mellon Bank's 1920s building on Mellon Square is still nicknamed, has heard the stories of Andrew's doings and indeed they still impact the social and business scene of Pittsburgh.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on November 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A continual flow of books appears on Carnegie, Rockefeller, Frick, J.P. Morgan and others of the "gilded age" zillionaires who benefitted from the post-civil war industrialization of the U.S. But until now, Andrew Mellon (1855-1937) has lacked a substantial biography. David Cannadine, one of Britain's leading historians (who has taught here at Columbia and Princeton as well), has remedied this deficiency in this superb biography. It is a long book to be sure, 617 pages not counting notes; I always feel books of this dimension could benefit from more stringent editing. In its defense, it can be said to be authoritative and comprehensive.

Mellon is largely a forgotten figure today, even for those of us who live in Washington and benefit from the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery, and are aware of his service during three administrations (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover) as Secretary of the Treasury. Cannadine covers all aspects of Mellon's very diverse life and interests. He devotes limited attention to Mellon's parentage, although his father, Thomas Mellon, is quite an interesting figure in his own right. Much of the book is devoted to a solid business history of Mellon's activities--Alcoa, Gulf Oil, Mellon banks, etc. This affords us with an excellent resource for understanding this period in American history when these financial giants exercised such influence (Morgan stopping the panic of 1907, for example). Next, the book contains an excellent political history of the period, particularly 1920-1937, which witnesses the loss of GOP control and the shift to the New Deal.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By James H. McCauley on January 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I heard David Cannadine talk on"Biography"here in Canberra some months ago and describe his monumental research on Andrew Mellon.I knew nothing of Andrew Mellon except that his father and grandfather had emigrated from my home town in Co. Tyrone,Northern Ireland, in the early 19th century.Then I read Russell Baker's review and decided that I must read the biography and Amazon obliged.

It was entrancing from start to finish and I learned hugely of the Mellons and the history of Pittsburg and the industrial and economic rise of the U.S.

David Cannadine is to be congratulated on making such an astonishing amount of detail so easy to read, and keep ones interest to the final page.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those big biographies that I wanted to spend a bit more time with because of the way the life that is the subject of the book connects with the age in which he lived, how the generations before conditioned his opportunities and how the way he lived and affected his times echoed into the next generation. Andrew Mellon is an enigmatic character that has great complexities and yet at the same time seems to be not fully realized in his personal life. At his economic zenith, he paid more personal taxes than all but two men. While never nearly as rich as Carnegie or the senior Rockefeller, he was still amazingly wealthy.

Mellon was shrewd and fiercely competitive in his business dealings and seemed to view investment and business growth in ways that are recognizable in, say, Warren Buffet today. He emphasized developing good companies and management teams rather than speculating in financial instruments. Yet, for all his business talent, he married disastrously and his daughter and son never felt close to him. They also felt quite burdened by the vast wealth he left them. Still, they never repudiated the wealth or the material ease of life it gave them despite their difficult search for their personal identity.

The Mellons were Ulster Scots who came to American in the 1810s. Andrew Mellon's father, Thomas, was a boy when his father and mother, Andrew and Rebecca settled in western Pennsylvania to farm. Sewn into Rebecca's belt were 200 guineas that were to become the seed money for the Mellon fortune. As Thomas grew, he realized that he was no farmer. He worked to get himself a better education than any of his many sons obtained.
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