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Preview — The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
Founder of a dynasty, builder of the original Grand Central, creator of an impossibly vast fortune, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt is an American icon. Humbly born on Staten Island during George Washington’s presidency, he rose from boatman to builder of the ...more
100 pages of note ...more
It's hard, quite hard, translating 19th century finances to today, or stature.
But, pretend that one person was a pioneer in both the equivalent of computer operating systems AND online communications, and had the money of both. In other words, Cornelius Vanderbilt approaches a combination of Bill Gates and Sergey Brin, or something like that, with a fortune worth a least $100 billion in today's economy.
It would be easy indeed to stereotype this person as a Gilded Age "ro ...more
You don't spit into the wind
You don't take the mask
off that ole Lone Ranger
and you don't mess around with Cornelius Vanderbilt
This book won the Pulitzer Prize and rightfully so. What an amazing life was this one of over 80 years that played such a vital part in the history of the United States.
Knowing absolutely nothing about the Commodore before starting the book, I was eager to find out about him, expected a scoundrel and found a man of character. Stiles obvious ...more
The funny thing is I enjoyed it, and actually am inspired to read more American history. As I was finishing Stiles' excellent biography, I heard about President Obama reading Edmund Morris's 'The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,' and immediately wanted to read that. (Obama was the ...more
T. J. Stiles provides a masterful biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt from his childhood to the tremendous impact he made on this country as a tycoon and "commodore" in the various industries he transformed. From his early time running steamboats and laying the groundwork for one of the most important Supreme Court cases (Gibbons v. Ogden) to the time he was running railroads Vanderbilt displayed tremendous business acumen and skill. He had a simple principle to making money which was to only go w ...more
Be forewarned. The author marches you through the arc ...more
What makes the opening strong is the discussion of the patrician attitudes of the founders, how this manifested itself in not only politics but t ...more
2.5 stars is closer to reasonable.
Listening to THE FIRST TYCOON: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, by T. J. Stiles, although rife with interesting moments, was made, at times, confusing and overwhelming by its far too excruciating attention to minor details. I really don't care that 'Commodore' was putting on shoes, with four buckles on them, while receiving a visitor—who considered the shoes stylish, by the way, and thought he might like to have a pair like them—in his sitti ...more
Though Stiles's admiration for the man who inspired the phrase "robber baron" shines throughout this extraordinary rags-to-riches story, he harbors no illusions about his vindictive and bad-tempered subject. Stiles is quick to set the record straight when the past has condemned Vanderbilt unfairly, but he details his unscrupulous business dealings and troubled relationships with equal aplomb. Stiles's exhaustive research has resulted in a massive, carefully edited book, and critics were surprise...more
I also found it interesting that as he and o ...more
The book was a national bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize for History, but I don't see what all the fuss is about.
The book does do an impressive job of making a compelling historical character out of a man not known for his personality and who was barely literate, and thus left few records. Stiles does manage to show the drama in things like the war for the control of the Erie Railroad in 1869 and Vanderbilt's financial expansion from the Hudson River Railroad into a national system. There a ...more
"Sons are notoriously prone to exaggerate the importance of their fathers, as are biographers with their subjects..."
Vanderbilt founded a dynasty. The First Tycoon starts with one of the final challenges to that dynasty. The Commodore had left the vast majority of his estate to one of his children. The rest were challeng ...more
The author does two things amazingly well, considering his material. The first is that he is able to explain stock market battles and ruses easily and make them interesting. This is no small feat, but it's tremendously important to writing the life of Vanderbilt, whose greatest battles were bidding wars to stop the bears in the stock market who were trying to depress stock prices for personal gain.
Second, he take ...more
He was the original “robber baron.” Other familiar names associated with the nineteenth century — John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan — were young men in the early days of their careers when he was at the peak of his fame. Following the Civil War, he became the richest person in American history, and to this day remains the second-richest, bested only by Rockefeller. (Yes, richer by far than Bill Gates and Warr ...more