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179 of 188 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous biography of a quiet and mysterious man of immense power and stupendous wealth
"The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt" is an impressive and fascinating biography, wonderfully evocative of the quiet man with enormous power, influence and wealth. At the time of his death he owned five percent of America's wealth.

Even though he was known as the king of the railroad, he was much more than that: he was the king of the...
Published on April 29, 2009 by Yesh Prabhu, author of The Bee...

versus
48 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Minority Report
I'm frankly suprised that the Stiles biography has been so widely honored. That it is comprehensive is inarguable. It is exhaustive. It's also exhausting. Stiles writes with numbing detail, often, but not always, buttressing a contention with a quote where either would have sufficed. Occasionally he offers an anecdote only to then to render it moot by saying it was...
Published on April 24, 2010 by Read'n'writer


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179 of 188 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous biography of a quiet and mysterious man of immense power and stupendous wealth, April 29, 2009
"The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt" is an impressive and fascinating biography, wonderfully evocative of the quiet man with enormous power, influence and wealth. At the time of his death he owned five percent of America's wealth.

Even though he was known as the king of the railroad, he was much more than that: he was the king of the steamboats and ships, and the king of industries and corporations as well. He built the original Grand Central Terminal in New York, and also the mighty New York Central Railroad system connecting New York with Chicago.

This tycoon also had his share of pains, disappointments, sadness, and regrets that life offers all mortals. His son Cornelius Jeremiah's addiction to gambling and also the affliction of epilepsy greatly distressed him.

Written in simple and lucid prose, the book is gripping and entertaining to the very end: "Vanderbilt was an empire builder, the first great corporate tycoon in American history. Even before the United States became a truly industrial country, he learned to use the tools of corporate capitalism to amass wealth and power on a scale previously unknown, creating enterprises of unprecedented size."

Mr. T. J. Stiles has written a marvelous biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Reading this book was a joy.
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stiles Vanderbilt Biography is Good Beyond Words, May 2, 2009
I don't often write "reviews" because I would prefer to spend the time reading. But Stiles new book demands high praise and unreserved recommendation to any readers who enjoy good history, colorful life stories and well written and compelling narrative. The Vanderbilt story, his times, and Stiles fine writing make this long history pulse with the "can't put it down" quality of a great mystery. This truly is a must-read, and a joy from cover to cover. At the end I only wanted more!
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional at any price, May 1, 2009
A superlative and memorable biography, easily winning comparison with the works of David McCullough, William Manchester, and Robert Caro. While I joined with those who protested the original Kindle pricing of this book, and am gratified to see the reduction in price, I'll also say that the book is well worth whatever price you pay. It's without doubt a remarkable accomplishment and a rich display of Mr. Stiles' considerable talents.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book deserves better, May 8, 2009
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Full disclosure: I have the book but haven't finished it yet. I'm enjoying it so far, much as I enjoyed the last book by T.J. Stiles, on Jesse James. Both books are highly readable, and provide a vivid, illuminating portrait of their respective subjects, as well as the society that made them (and which they came to shape).

What compelled me to post a review this early in the process, is the flood of negative ratings - most (if not all) of which are about the e-book's pricing, not the book itself. Those criticisms, however understandable, have little to do with the substance of the book. This book and its author deserve better than that.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blue pencil, please, June 7, 2009
I guess I will take the minority position here and say that while I liked this biography, and admire the depth of research by the author, my humble opinion is that the book could have used some editing. I don't need to know the name and route of every single ship that sailed under the Vandy name to appreciate CV's achievements. It was a little rocky getting through the first couple hundred pages, but clear sailing after that. The best part of the bio is the recounting of CV's contributions to the Civil War effort.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best biography I have read, October 12, 2009
I read nothing but History, Science and Biography. I must have read fifty biographies in the past few years. Stiles book, The First Tycoon is certainly the best. Why? Because Stiles provides so many interesting details, but he makes it so exciting. We follow Cornelius Vanderbilt from his life as a young man sailing a boat from Staten Island to Manhattan for a living, to buying his first steam boat, to becoming a steamboat company owner, and finally to becoming the richest man in the US by investing in railroads. He did it all himself! He had no significant help from his parents, and no education. He was just smart and very hard working. Wow! What a book! We learn a lot about the terrific period in the US from 1800 to 1877. This isn't about the civil war -- it is about the development of business and the railroads which had so much to do with uniting our country and making it possible to develop the midwest. You will learn a lot that you did not know before, and you will learn new aspects of things that you think that you already know. Your life will be enriched by reading this book.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Book, May 2, 2009
This is a fascinating look at one of the great men of capitalism and the dynamics of the 19th century. Amazing how much is relevant to the situation we are in today.

Ignore the "one star" reviews of those who were complaining about the Kindle product (probably all the same person). Very sad when the review process is hijacked by cheaters.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars But how did he make his decisions?, December 28, 2009
T. J. Stiles thinks Cornelius Vanderbilt has gotten a bad rap.
Born during George Washington's presidency, Vanderbilt built a massive business empire starting with steamships and then railroads. His life spanned an epic period of the growth of the United States. During his life he saw New York grow from a population of 40,000 to over 1 million, the introduction of the railroad and steamships, building the Erie canal, the gold rush, the telegraph, and the American civil war.
Vanderbilt comes across as tenaciously driven in business, opportunistic, and personally aloof. During the development of the country during the 18th century, Vanderbilt was always there -capitalizing upon and in turn, providing the infrastructure that enabled the country's growth.
Vanderbilt's response to the California gold rush of 1849 is illustrative. He built a steamship line that transported passengers to the east coast of Nicaragua, transferred them to a small riverboat for the trip up the San Juan river. Shipped and reassembled a larger ferry boat for the trip across Lake Nicaragua, and then used pack animals to make the 12 miles trip to the Pacific. Finally, another steamship took them to San Francisco. Doing so required political deftness, engineering expertise, financial backing, and a keen business acumen.
Vanderbilt then began shifting his business from steamships to railroads. Shortly after the civil war he had essentially shifted his entire business focus away from steamships to railroads.
I wondered how he made these decisions. Did he ponder long and hard the future of the country and decide where he needed to be? How did he see these changes coming? Another strength of Vanderbilt's business practices was his ruthless efficiency enabling him to cut costs and operate profitably when others couldn't. How did he achieve these efficiencies? Was he an early version of Sam Walton? Unfortunately, the author can't help us much here.
Vanderbilt, with his embracing of unfettered competition, crushing of workers (at one point he fired all his enginehands on his personal yacht and hired an entire new set on the eve of the underway), and manipulation of markets to gain control and wealth seems an unlikely hero for the current environment. You would think he'd be reviled even more. He had an aversion to government handouts because many of his competitors benefitted unfairly from special treatment. That has made the success of the book more remarkable in my mind.
In the end, Vanderbilt saw the Panic of 1873, the most severe financial meltdown of his career, as caused by an asset bubble in Railroad stocks. It would be interesting to know what he would think of today's situation.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Major Work - Lots of Detail in the Deals, December 22, 2009
Stiles's rendering of Cornelius Vanderbilt starts off strong. For over 100 pages the writing is riveting. What follows is a lot of detail on water and rail routes and deals. While the original research and its presentation are certainly worthy of the National Book Award, for me, and perhaps many other general readers, more than half the book was a slog.

What makes the opening strong is the discussion of the patrician attitudes of the founders, how this manifested itself in not only politics but the economy. Stiles has the best description I've read yet of the Jacksonian view and how that view took hold. He shows how the Supreme Court decision Gibbons vs. Ogden was part of the Jacksonian legacy and how it paved the way for the "little guy" as an entrepreneur.

In what follows there are fascinating parts such as Vanderbilt and the Nicaragua enterprise, the Civil War and almost anything about the family. Stiles gives the best explanations I've read of the greenback dollar and stock watering. What bogged it down for me were the long descriptions of sea and land routes and the many financial maneuvers.

I think the problem for the historians such as Stiles who are doing serious research is the conflict of documenting long and complex findings and writing them for the general reader. The Bibliographical Essay at the end (it would be great if more books had one) shows the limitations of the Vanderbilt biographies to date. It also shows how Stiles found things that if not printed here could be forever buried. The challenge is how to accommodate all them and still have a book for the general, and not academic, reading market. For figures, like Vanderbilt, perhaps the conflict cannot be resolved.
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48 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Minority Report, April 24, 2010
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I'm frankly suprised that the Stiles biography has been so widely honored. That it is comprehensive is inarguable. It is exhaustive. It's also exhausting. Stiles writes with numbing detail, often, but not always, buttressing a contention with a quote where either would have sufficed. Occasionally he offers an anecdote only to then to render it moot by saying it was certainly apocryphal, adding to the book's tonnage without adding anything to our knowledge. It almost feels at times that Stiles found quotes and wrote around them and at other times, had a tidbit of information and went searching for a corroborating quote. There are parts of the book that seem repetitious, even if they actually aren't.

Vanderbilt certainly lived an epic life as the subtitle of the book would have it, and had enormous, some would say unparalleled impact on the nation, and is clearly worth of the kind of scrutiny Stiles has brought to it. But judicious editing would have produced a livelier read, without materially affecting the scope or sense of completeness of the book nor of the man.
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The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles (Paperback - April 20, 2010)
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