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American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,091 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
The nineteenth century saw the wholesale transformation from a land of small farmers and small businessmen into an industrial giants. J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, armies of workers, both male and female.
Paperback, Large Print, 1054 pages
Published October 19th 2010 by Random House Large Print Publishing (first published January 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Randy Auxier
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
H. W. Brands is one of the historians made popular by “the Ken Burns phenomenon” of the last quarter century. It seems that so many of us had a football coach for high school history that we didn’t realize how damned interesting the story was – at least until Ken Burns reminded us (I’m guessing he didn’t have a coach for that class). Having arrived ignorantly in adulthood, we were strangely ripe for the pickings of an increasingly ingenious publishing industry. Historians are being thrown up the ...more
Dan Walker
Aug 05, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics
If you want a review of American history during the Gilded Age, the book is fine if pedantic in places. However, if you want something beyond a shallow analysis of WHY such great wealth was created during the period, get a different book.

For Brands it boils down to capitalism versus democracy. By "democracy," he means labor. Capitalism created a tremendous amount of wealth... BUT... labor is better. WHY labor is better is never questioned. The assumption is just that labor is better.

In reality,
...more
Karl Rove
University of Texas historian Bill Brands surveys what the book’s subtitle calls “The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900.” It seems Brands isn’t happy with the outcome of his story, as capitalism bests populism by convincing working class voters that free markets provide more prosperity and opportunity that populism’s class warfare could. AMERICAN COLOSSUS is written with verve, attention to detail, and breezy portraiture of the interesting actors – many of them businessmen and financiers – who sh ...more
Paul (formerly known as Current)
As an overview of the time from the Civil War to the early 1900's, this is a good book, well written and interesting. This contains the kind of stories one would wish showed up in school books to get people interested in history and to get people talking about political and economic choices. Did capitalism successfully drive the growth of the country? At what costs? And how were its more monstrous forms managed? What are the things that democracy destroyed in its own right through the subjugatio ...more
Susan
Feb 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished this 621-page book (in paperback) for today’s book discussion. Yes, I have mixed feelings.

“American Colossus” sets out to focus on The Big Three of the “The Gilded Age”: John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. However, countless other characters – including multiple presidents -- enter the sweeping history covering events from 1865-1900: the building of the transcontinental railroad, the Chicago fire, the Battle of Wounded Knee, the Spanish-American war and so many mo
...more
Brian
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-american
This one was half work, half fun. The "work" part means "useful for my dissertation," and is not a comment on H.W. Brands' prose style (which is excellent). The "fun" part comes from being a history dork, so your mileage may vary. Still, if you want a fast-moving (really!) and informative overview of the Gilded Age, this is it.

My only quibble is with the subtitle. Besides making it sound like labor history (which most nonspecialist readers find deadly dull), "The Triumph of Capitalism" implies
...more
Hotavio
As deeply in love as I am becoming with the Gilded Age, it would be hard for me to dislike American Colossus . Brands' view of the era through the lens of capitalism allows him to give a very broad American history from Reconstruction until the turn of the century. Seemingly EVERYTHING is covered in some form in the book. Chapters range from Indian affairs to the Spanish-American War. While providing a very interesting history, I felt lost in other historiographies, at times. At other times, th ...more
David
I listened to this volume as a CD -- 19 discs lasting more than 20 hours. Briefly, it is not Dr. Brands' best work. It tries to do too much, and, as a result, fails to do what it sets out to do very well. For me, the story wandered -- it is a compilation of a plethora of vignettes, each of which is a fascinating episode in itself. But together, the book is disjointed and uncoordinated. In addition, despite its length, I found many of the stories to be incomplete, often one-sided, with frequent l ...more
Phan
Dec 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a proper review, i just want to add some notes for mental connections:

- Central theme: Democracy and Capitalism. They are both protagonistic (maximize personal freedom politically and economically) and antagonistic (employ different machanism: equality and inequality). While Democracy give participants equality (1 vote each), capitalism utilizes and enhances inequality, it uses participants' unequal talent, resources and enhances the unequal reward, wealth afterwards.

Democracy and capitalism
...more
John Gurney
American Colossus is a fast read because it is narrative history. Author H.W. Brands employs a huge scope to the period 1865-1900. But the book disappoints because its very premise is illogical with Brands setting this story as "capitalism" vs. "democracy". Obviously, capitalism is an economic system and democracy a political system. Most capitalist nations are democracies and most democracies employ some form of capitalism. What Brands gets at is he takes the rise of capitalism, especially mono ...more
Jack
Apr 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book. Quite readable, perhaps a bit too easy in parts. I really enjoyed Brands's use of primary accounts. He also really made the Chicago fire come to life. Brands also, I think, strikes a fine balance between the dual issues of capitalism and democracy (he plays on that theme, with the rising influence of one or the other, throughout the book). The supporters of all sides are presented in ways that most of them would not mind. The power barons of the times, like Morgan, Rockefeller, a ...more
Chris
Nov 18, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
from nytimes.com review: "Mr. Brands, a terrific writer who commands his material, handles this sprawling, complicated story with authority and panache. A book that might have been a worthy but boring tome turns out to be as close as serious history gets to a page turner."

I liked this book, but wanted to love it. The period it covers, the US in the last third of the 19th C, is fascinating, and Brands tells the story competently; it was fun to find out what the fight over the gold standard was ab
...more
Marks54
This book was a bit odd and fragmented. Its chapters cover the general developments of a series of topics all related to the rise of the "guilded age" in the late 1900s. Some of the chapters, such as the ones on the railroads, the growth of the big industrial Robber Barons, and the beginnings of labor disputes, are straightforward and easy to read. Others, such as those concerned with the treatment of the Indians, the development of the Reconstruction South, and the growth of post civil war poli ...more
Richard Ash
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book! It's a fascinating look at the late 19th century and is still relevant today!

- You see similar politics in the late 1800's. The system is gridlocked. Citizens feel fed up with Washington. Rise & fall of political parties.

- Populist movements. Against politics. Against corporations. Against Wall Street.
Then. Fight against railroads. Hatred towards Wall Street. Fight for silver. Farmers vs. Manufacturing
Now. Black Lives Matter. Tea Party. Occupy Wall Street. 99% vs. 1% Manufacturi
...more
Elaine Nelson
Read several weeks ago; it had to be "returned" before I was finished, and it wasn't available to be checked out again. :(

Less of a coherent narrative than a series of historical vignettes, taking aspects of American life in the late 19th century and examining them through a lens of the growth of modern capitalism. Most interesting to me were the chapters that looked at areas that aren't normally associated with big business: cowboys and Indians (so to speak) were particularly intriguing.

I was s
...more
Fausto Betances
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Good book if it only had a different title. It does talk in extend of the businessmen pionering big league american capitalism but it also tries to focus in the bigger socioeconomic picture of the 1800's. A daunting task in itself!
I was expecting more about the live of the Colossuses portrayed in the cover.
Cari
3.5 stars, because the first half was great but the second half got lost, doubled backed, wandered around, and fizzled out.
Damon
Mar 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting account of the forces of unbridled capitalism in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Important subject, given how many people would love to take the country back there.
Andrew Obrigewitsch
This book is about a time period rather than an individual person. This author is much better at telling the history of one person. This was still interesting, but not as good as his other works.
Howard
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As one of the Gilded Age's leading capitalists said "'What do I care about the law?' bellowed Cornelius Vanderbilt. 'Hain't I got the power?'". [p 8] The Gilded Age was one where the powerful grew in strength while the weak (blacks, Native Americans, Chinese, farmers, the working class) became weaker. "Wealth had always conferred power, but never had a class of Americans been so wealthy as the great capitalists of the late nineteenth century, and never had such a small class wielded such incomme ...more
Craig Adamson
Despite enjoying several of HW Brand's other books, I had a difficult time making my way thru this one. I almost quit reading get it 1/3, 1/2, and 3/4 of the way thru. But there was just enough to keep my going to the next chapter but sometimes just barely.

The books is broken up into various vignettes and mini biographies. I think that was somewhat of my problem in reading the book as I didn't connect with the narrative. I would enjoy "getting to know" a "Colossus" only to have that story wrappe
...more
Wendy
Dec 05, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The history of America closely mirrors the course of capitalism. It's disconcerting and a little disappointing to realize that the state of modern American society has not changed very much. The friction that exists between races and classes are sadly, still in the here and now. The power of big money to steer the course of US politics is also similar. It's an interesting, albeit somewhat disconcerting book for anyone interested in US history.
Sarah Finch
Light on economic or political theory but long on engaging narrative, Brands loosely weaves together a tapestry of postbellum nineteenth century American history to show how changes in economic production and power transformed a loosely held and slowly recovering group of united states into the behemoth that was the twentieth-century United States.
Kevin Godfrey
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting to learn about the men being the well-known names

Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan. These are names we are attached to buildings, universities, banks, etc. But who were the men behind these well-known names? This book was educational in helping me understand how steel, railroads, oil, banks became such big industries in the United States.
Jeffrey Thomas
Really fine, excellent for popular history. Lively writing, and an outstanding instinct for selection in brief accounts of major episodes. Not only do you have a feeling that you’ve learned substance; he has in fact gone to causes and important details, within a short space.
George
Nov 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A COLOSSAL GOOD READ

“…he [John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913)] believed capitalism a surer guide to the national interest than democracy. Capitalism was predictable; the pursuit of profit enforced reason on men and sifted the able from the incompetent.”—page 548

The ‘Gilded Age,’ with its (‘conspicuous consumption’) millionaire’s mansions in the east, co-existing with the sod-houses of ranchers and farmers of the western prairie, is one of the most fascinating periods in American history. In his cap
...more
Mark
May 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A 19 hour audiobook that held my attention & interest throughout. The book's subtitle worried me that it might be coming from a firmly political point of view, but I was pleased to discover this wasn't the case at all. I think it was the good work of a historian who tried to be as complete as possible. If anything, the central core of the book is the inevitable(?) seesawing tension between capitalism on a grand scale, and democracy (participatory politics on a grand scale).

The 20th century i
...more
Dave Courtney
Reads like a great history class lecture (and feels like one given the 600 plus pages of material. As narrative history it is a relatively easy read. It looks at American history, specifically late 1800's to early 1900's, from a very broad perspective (almost as an ariel view point that isolates the largest, central figures (such as Carnegie and Rockefeller) and connects the lines (chapter by chapter) to other characters and key events that surround them.

It should be noted that Brands is not ne
...more
Chris Sutton
Jun 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Uneven, but I enjoyed this book about the tensions between the forces of capitalism and democracy in late nineteenth century America. Brands describes how the "imperatives of capitalism" became more important than those of democracy as the century drew to a close, until the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson turned the tide back.

Brands describes how these competing manifestos play out through the rise of the railroads, agriculture, the cattle industry, the freeing of the slaves, Wall S
...more
Miguel
Oct 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Sweeping economic history with a narrative twist

If the term "economic history" makes your eyes glaze over as you think about a dry analysis of GDP projections and steel tonnage figures, fear not. There isn't a single mention of inflation or per capita income in here. Think more along the lines of "Ken Burns: The Gilded Age of Capitalism." Although the subject matter is susceptible to drowning in rivers of mind-numbing statistical data, the author takes a single-mindedly narrative approach to his
...more
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Henry William Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college. He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics. After graduating he became a traveling salesman, with a territory that spanned the West from the Pacific to Colorado. His wanderlust diminished after several trips across the Great Basin, and he turned to sales of a differen ...more
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