Tony's Reviews > The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles
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's review
Apr 25, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography
Read in April, 2010

Stiles, T. J. THE FIRST TYCOON: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. (2010). ****. I’ve been reading this biography in bits and pieces for two weeks now, and finally came to the end. If this isn’t a great example of an exhaustive biography, then I’ve never seen one before. It is extremely well written, and well researched. The author manages to maintain the reader’s interest even in the face of otherewise boring business maneuvers by the group of tycoons of the time. Vanderbilt started out as a ferry service operator in the New York Narrows – just like his father. Later, he branched out into shipping and ship building. The momentum carried him into prominence during the explosive growth of the California trade during the Gold Rush Era. He established his own short-cut route through Nicaragua and was able to undercut his competition in both time and costs of transportation. He eventually amassed a large fleet of steamships and became a major force in U.S. shipping. During the Civil War, he was an advisor to President Lincoln on sea tactics, and was commissioned to build a ship that would be able to destroy the ironclads being used by the Confederates. He eventually sold out his interest in shipping and turned to the new railroads as his next investment. There he built his most extensive empire and, in the course of so doing, essentially invented the modern corporation. He allied himself with other common-sense businessmen where it made sense to do so, but ultimately controlled all of his own business strategies. His legacy passed on to his son, who managed the business ventures ably, but successive generations chose to spend their time spending all of grandpas money during the so-called Guilded Age. This biography was recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Highly recommended.
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