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The Robber Barons Paperback – January 24, 1962


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Matthew Josephson (1899-1978) received a Guggenheim fellowship and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He is the author of, among other books, Al Smith: Hero of the Cities, winner of the Van Wyck Brooks prize for biography and history.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 474 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (January 24, 1962)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156767902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156767903
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Peter A. Greene VINE VOICE on January 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
If you're going to write history, the best thing to do is be objective and balanced. But if you can't do that, the second best thing is to broadcast your bias loud and clear.
By going the second route, this book provides not only a historical account of the robber barons, but a pretty clear picture of the Marxist perspective on them in 1934.
It's interesting at times to watch Josephson struggle for balance. On the one hand, he seems to almost admire the big capitalists when they're creating collectives by crushing the little capitalists. On the other hand, when they start tromping on the workers, they're clearly Very Naughty. And he addresses the rampant religious fervor of most of the barons, but never really figures out how to make it fit the picture other than by suggesting they're just enormously hypocritical.
The story of railroad, steel and banking essentially taking over the country is here, nicely organized so that we can follow relevant threads without getting to caught up in chronology. Josephson sometimes lets his billowing prose and sweeping characterizations overwhelm detail and fact; his style is definitely not for all tastes.
Ultimately it's a double history, not only of the Robber Barons themselves, but of the singular vantage point of the mid-thirties. Yes, Josephson is not the most objective of chroniclers, but his bias is so clearly stated and in evidence that it is easy to filter out, and his point of view becomes an interesting subject of this study in its own right.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Biz Reader on June 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
I found the Robber Barons an interesting book to read but I thought Matthew Josephson's book the Money Lords was better. It is a well written book as you would expect from Josephon. Robber Barons is a classic and a good general history of the pioneers of industry including Astor, Vanderbilt, Drew, Cooke, Gould, Fisk, Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller and Harriman of which I am sure most will find it interesting but it lacks the insight and wisdom of Money Lords. There are numerous interesting stories of all the above metioned men as they made their individual quests for success. Most of the men made a great deal of their fortunes through stocks on Wall Street which some of their stories are outlined here. Interesting enough is that over half made their fortunes in Rail Roads through ownership and stock manipulation. This is a good book giving the reader a general overview of some of the biggest fortunes made during the late 1800's.
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Ray Stephanson on June 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
This 1934 book provides a history of the late 19th century that is missing from school history books. The author worked for a few years in Wall Street and learned about the "Men Who Rule America". Later he wrote a number of biographies for a magazine. These men were no match for the great capitalists who flourished in the late 19th century (the Gilded Age). He decided to write not just about their lives, manners and morals, but how they got their money. Their great wealth was unaffected by any income tax. These barons of industry were "agents of progress" in transforming an agrarian-mercantile society into a mass production economy. Josephson described their most ruthless actions, their plunders and conspiracies, and their lack of ethics. The system they created led to the Great Depression. Since then academic historians created a revisionist history that claimed those entrepreneurs were saviors of the country and not interested in looting and plundering the economy. This "history" is similar to the "truth factories" in George Orwell's "1984" [which is about Britain and the world of 1948]. Their family dynasties have survived, they established trusts that evaded the tax burdens of other wealthy families. [Other writers have pointed out that they sponsored universities to control teachers and thinking, and provide other benefits.] These dynasties seem permanent. The founders were hated by the American people in their lifetime. The farmers of Kansas first applied the name "Robber Barons" to the railroads that oppressed them.

Jay Gould bought the "New York World" and the Associate Press to control the news to his advantage. Most newspapers then were independently owned, unlike today's corporate media. The Robber Barons used their control of transportation to levy tolls on all shipments.
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35 of 45 people found the following review helpful By TD on December 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Judging by the attack "reviews" below there must be some right-wing campaign in progress to discredit Josephson. It's probably being organized by one of those propaganda machines they call "conservative think tanks".

That nonsense aside, the book itself is a fabulous read as a tome on both history and grand business strategy for building a trust. Indeed I found it difficult to put down at night in order to go to sleep. Josephson brings the Robber Barons alive.

For anyone interested in how men can amass such great fortunes the book provides plenty of clues by revealing the strategies used by the Robber Barons.

One final point, a few of the attack reviews here are critical of Josephson for siding with labor in their disputes with the Robber Barons. They conveniently overlook the fact that most workers were treated as slaves back then working 12 hour days 6 times per week. If they dared complain about dangerous work conditions, the Andrew Carnegie types would simply send in battalions of Pinkerton goons to bust heads open and maybe even murder a few workers for good measure.

There is no other history of the Robber Barons that comes close to this book.
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