55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
An Extraordinarily Thorough Biography,
This review is from: Andrew Carnegie (Hardcover)
David Nasaw, who previously authored a well-received biography of William Randolph Hearst, has produced in this fine biography undoubtedly the most complete account of Andrew Carnegie that we will ever have. The book runs some 842 pages, including notes, and is based upon prodigious research into published and unpublished sources. The book reminds me very much of the stupendous biography of J. Pierpont Morgan by Jean Strouse, in that it is comprehensive and definitive. The author takes quite a balanced approach to Carnegie, which many other accounts of Gilded Age zillionaires fail to employ. He recognizes Carnegie's talents and philanthropic efforts, but also demonstrates that Carnegie often misled the public about his activities, and sometimes even engaged in self-delusion, especially about the Homestead Strike. Many dimensions of Carnegie with which I was not familiar are skillfully developed by the author, including his involvement in world peace and arbitration efforts, his career as a published author, and his efforts to become a key political advisor to TR, Taft and Wilson. Much like the Morgan volume, this book is also an outstanding business history of the late 19th-early 20th century period in the U.S., especially as regards the development of the steel industry and its eventual consolidation by Morgan into the U.S. Steel Corportation.
The fly in the ointment is that while the author's throughness is the book's greatest strength, it also becomes a major weakness. That is, it is simply too long by far. Sometimes one comes to believe that every letter exchanged between Carnegie and his leadership group, including Henry Clay Frick and Charles M. Schwab for example, has been reviewed by the author and recounted in the text. As a reference work on Carnegie, such inclusiveness is to be commended; but it makes for an overly long and detailed biography that becomes quite an undertaking to read. There can be too much of a good thing and more vigorous editing probably was in order. Nonetheless, it is only fair to say everything about or relating to Carnegie is somewhere within this extensive volume. An interesting cast of characters (in addition to those already mentioned) makes an appearance, including Kaiser Bill, Herbert Spencer, John Morley, various prime ministers, and John D. Rockefeller to name a few.
Carnegie thanks to Nasaw proves to be a much more interesting figure than being simply the "richest man in the world" who was determined to give it all away before his death. If you are interested in Carnegie or the business history of this period, this book is an invaluable resource. The text is supported by 42 pages of helpful notes and a valuable bibliography. The author's command of his subject is evident on every page. An invaluable resource on the man and his period.