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The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt Unknown Binding – 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
He pioneered the new steamboat technology on routes out of New York to Philadelphia, Albany, and Boston in conjunction with stagecoaches and eventually railroads, offering ever-increasing speed and amenities at lower costs and fares. Then he tackled the transcontinental Gold-Rush trade via Nicaragua, followed by the trans-Atlantic traffic with ever-larger and more efficient steamships of his own ingenious designs. His donation of his mammoth namesake steamship to the US government during the Civil War was what terrified the Confederate ironclad into retreat.
Late in his career he set his sights on amalgamating existing railroads operating from New York to Albany, soon progressing across the entire state, and then to Chicago. In his old age he was outwitted by the up-and-coming financiers Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller. Vanderbilt's lifelong friendship with the like-minded financier Daniel Drew survived their intense business rivalries, Drew's collusion with Gould against him in the Erie RR War, and Drew's ultimate bankruptcy.
Becoming the wealthiest man in the nation, Vanderbilt invested his fortune in his business rather than into grandiose display, and managed to bequeath both fortune and business intact to his eldest son in hopes that he would follow the same practice. The heirs soon sold off the enterprise to enable them to concentrate on flaunting their wealth, more importantly initiating the process of joining the patrician ranks by repudiating their tainted industrial heritage. Illustrated by a selection of out-of-the-ordinary photographs and prints, this book is a tour de force deserving every award it receives.
How the nation's economic policy, regulatory necessities, cultural transformation played out during that century - in part due to Vanderbilt's doings - is an important context to understand.
The book is awfully tedious and the author's naive attempts at creating cliffhangers ("... If only he knew the troubles that were about to come ...") are annoying - yet this biography is an important book for those who study history and business.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'm 2/3 through and can say already that Mr. Stiles is a top 5 favorite of mine.Read more