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The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America

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ISBN-13: 978-0963020314
ISBN-10: 0963020315
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Revises in important ways many misperceptions that historians have imposed upon the record. Though Folsom's work is balanced, judicious history, addressed to the past...it has powerful relevance to current political discourse. --Forest McDonald, Professor of History, University of Alabama

The MYTH OF THE ROBBER BARONS is... excellent. . . . In short, this book is the perfect supplement to most standard economic and business history textbooks. this reviewer has adopted it already. --Larry Schweikart, THE HISTORIAN

I read this book in one sitting. In spite of the easy reading of the text, the book has profound meaning for the nature of business in America, with implications for political philosophy and economic theory. There isn't a businessman in the country who would not profit from the reading of this important book. --Angus MacDonald, BOOK REVIEWS

The MYTH OF THE ROBBER BARONS is... excellent. . . . In short, this book is the perfect supplement to most standard economic and business history textbooks. this reviewer has adopted it already. --Larry Schweikart, THE HISTORIAN

I read this book in one sitting. In spite of the easy reading of the text, the book has profound meaning for the nature of business in America, with implications for political philosophy and economic theory. There isn't a businessman in the country who would not profit from the reading of this important book. --Angus MacDonald, BOOK REVIEWS

The MYTH OF THE ROBBER BARONS is... excellent. . . . In short, this book is the perfect supplement to most standard economic and business history textbooks. this reviewer has adopted it already. --Larry Schweikart, THE HISTORIAN

I read this book in one sitting. In spite of the easy reading of the text, the book has profound meaning for the nature of business in America, with implications for political philosophy and economic theory. There isn't a businessman in the country who would not profit from the reading of this important book. --Angus MacDonald, BOOK REVIEWS

The MYTH OF THE ROBBER BARONS is... excellent. . . . In short, this book is the perfect supplement to most standard economic and business history textbooks. this reviewer has adopted it already. --Larry Schweikart, THE HISTORIAN

I read this book in one sitting. In spite of the easy reading of the text, the book has profound meaning for the nature of business in America, with implications for political philosophy and economic theory. There isn't a businessman in the country who would not profit from the reading of this important book. --Angus MacDonald, BOOK REVIEWS

The MYTH OF THE ROBBER BARONS is... excellent. . . . In short, this book is the perfect supplement to most standard economic and business history textbooks. this reviewer has adopted it already. --Larry Schweikart, THE HISTORIAN

I read this book in one sitting. In spite of the easy reading of the text, the book has profound meaning for the nature of business in America, with implications for political philosophy and economic theory. There isn't a businessman in the country who would not profit from the reading of this important book. --Angus MacDonald, BOOK REVIEWS

About the Author

Burton W. Folsom, Jr. is the Charles Kline professor of history and management at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He received his Ph. D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and has taught U. S. history at the University of Nebraska, the University of Pittsburgh, Murray State University, and Northwood University. He has also been a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan; and historian in residence at the Center for the American Idea in Houston, Texas. He has written articles for the WALL STREET JOURNAL, THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR, POLICY REVIEW, and HUMAN EVENTS. Professor Folsom's first book was Urban Capitalists. His later books include Empire Builders, No More Free Markets or Free Beer: The Progressive Era in Nebraska. He has two edited books, The Spirit of Freedom and The Industrial Revolution and Free Trade. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Southern History, Pacific Historical Review, Journal of American Studies, Great Plains Quarterly, The American Spectator, and The Wall Street Journal. He is a columnist on economic history for The Freeman for Ideas on Liberty.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 170 pages
  • Publisher: Young America's Foundation (1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0963020315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0963020314
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Burton W. Folsom is a professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan and senior historian at the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is a regular columnist for The Freeman and has written articles for The Wall Street Journal and American Spectator, among other publications. He lives in Michigan.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

155 of 167 people found the following review helpful By Doug on May 11, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Burton Folsom's The Myth of the Robber Barons is a short, but excellent book that argues that the mislabeled "Robber Barons" of the 19th century became wealthy not because they robbed anyone but because they offered quality products/services at record low prices. These productive giants made their fortunes because so many Americans chose to do business with them.

There are several values to gain from this book. First, you will learn several inspiring stories about how great industrialists amassed their fortunes through ingenuity, extended dedication and taking great calculated risks. You will learn about how Cornelius Vanderbilt defeated the Fulton NY/NJ steamship-transport monopoly by offering lower rates, earning a reputation for his punctuality, investing in faster and larger ships and providing ancillary services such as concessions. You will also learn about how Andrew Carnegie was obsessed with cutting costs, which led to him profitably carting off tons of steel shavings discarded from a competing steel plant owned by the Scrantons. Other business heroes covered in depth in this book are James J. Hill (who built the Great Northern Railroad without a penny of Federal aid), oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, the Scranton steel family, Carnegie's right hand man Charles Schwab and Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of the Treasury whose laissez-faire policy recommendations allowed the 1920s to roar.

Another great value of this book is that it dispels a few common myths about capitalism. For one, Folsom correctly identifies that "Robber Barons" is an invalid concept. That is, "Robber Barons" includes market entrepreneurs (i.e., those who *created* their fortunes by revolutionizing an industry) with political entrepreneurs (i.e.
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67 of 77 people found the following review helpful By E. Husman on January 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
Folsom picks out six success stories - of Vanderbilt's success against government-chartered monopolies, of the Scranton's success in challenging English steel manufacturers, of J. J. Hill's victory over subsidized transcontinentals and subsequent undoing by anti-trust laws and rate regulation, of Rockefeller's nearly unknown struggle against foreign oil, of Charles Scwhabb's rise and fall as a steel manufacturer, and of Andrew Mellon's success as a taxcutting Treasury Secretary - and uses these to illustrate how historians lump economic entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs together, and fail to teach us the correct lessons. Economic entrepreneurs are those whose vision, energy, talent, and willingness to take risk increase the size of the pie for all, while political entrepreneurs are those who beg for public assistance, squander it, resort to graft and influence peddling, and bring the wrath of the public down upon their ears as well as upon the economic entrepreneurs. Usually, it is the economic entrepreneurs that take the worst beating. In his effort to show the positive contributions of these individuals, Folsom fails to answer or even tell some of the infamy associated with men such as Vanderbilt ... but then, one of the points that he makes is that mainstream history books are full of this type of innuendo and rumor.
The reviewers complaining about the oversights fail to appreciate Folsom's intended audience or purpose. He is specifically pointing out problems with history texts, not trying to write an unassailable, definitive history of each of these industries.
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71 of 84 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
After reading the earlier review (below this one), I must say that I enjoyed this book immensely, and I am not a Conservative, and especially not a member of the Religious Right. This book sets the record straight about the "Robber Barons" and the attacks on them by the Muckrakers. It should be read by people of various political stands, whether they are Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Moderate, etc. I loved the chapters detailing the success stories of Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, James Jerome Hill, Charles M. Schwab, the Scrantons, John D. Rockefeller Sr., and Andrew Mellon. I must admit that I sort of wished there were also chapters on J. P. Morgan and Thomas Fortune Ryan, since I'm very curious about them. Anyway, reading this book really made me reflect on what I learned in school, and forced me to think about whether my teachers' moral condemnation of these entrepreneurs was actually justified. This book really makes you think.
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68 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Donald J. Boudreaux on September 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Folsom's book is accessible, eye-opening, and compelling. It is, I believe, the very best short work that punctures the prevailing myth of the robber barons. As Folsom shows, many of the most reviled "robber barons" were incredible benefactors of humankind - J. D. Rockefeller included.
Folsom's chapter on Rockefeller is a special gem. In a few pages, Folsom demonstrates what a truly remarkable human being Rockefeller was. Everyone in the industrialized world today would be noticeably less-well-off had J. D. Rockefeller not lived, or if he had lived in a time and place that would have snuffed out his incredible entrepreneurial creativity.
Not all late-19th-century businessmen were admirable. Folsom capably identifies the most notable "political entrepreneurs" (Folsom's term). Political entrepreneurs made their fortunes by manipulating the political process - by persuading or cajoling government to transfer wealth from politically weak parties to themselves. Market entrepreneurs, in contrast, earned their fortunes by making consumers and workers better off.
This is a superb work of business and economic history.
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