Steven Peterson's Reviews > Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jan 06, 2010

it was amazing
Read in December, 2006

801 pages of biography. This is what David Nasaw has produced--a massive biography of Andrew Carnegie. Well known as a philanthropist, he gave away much of his fortune. For instance, one accounting notes the following (page 801): ". . .at the time of his death, Carnegie had given away more than $350 million (in the tens of billions today). There remained but $20 million of stocks and bonds. . . . In the seventh paragraph of his last will and testament, Carnegie directed that it be bequeathed, in its entirety, to the Carnegie Corporation. And with this he accomplished the final, and to his mind, the most important goal he had set himself." In essence, he had given his entire fortune away.

This book provides cradle to grave coverage of Carnegie, beginning with his origins in Scotland. Early on, the family moved to the United States, settling in the Pittsburgh area. Carnegie's first job was in a cotton mill when he was thirteen. He was close to his mother then and throughout his life. He quickly moved to a position as a messenger with a telegraph company and then, in a stroke of fortune, become a telegraph operator in a company. Here, he began an association at a young age with Thomas Scott and J. Edgar Thomson of the Pennsylvania Railroad. By 17, he was working for the Pennsylvania Railroad and on his way.

The volume notes his small stature (barely five feet tall), but by 24, he was superintendent of the Pittsburgh Division of the rail company. Early on, he began to develop "rules for business" (e.g., see page 76). He was in a position to get involved over time with an oil company, with bridge building, with rail, coal, a bank, a grain elevator. And, of course, with iron and then steel. As he became successful, he and his mother enjoyed visiting the old family home in Scotland, Dunfermline.

He married quite late in life (after 50), but appears to have had a happy marriage; he also became a father later in life and appears to have done well in that role. By that time, he had withdrawn some from day to day running of his endeavors and spent much more time in New York and abroad than in Pittsburgh.

The book illustrates the ambitions of Carnegie to be more than an industrial baron. He wrote books, he hobnobbed with political leaders, authors, and scientists. He strove to be recognized as more than a wealthy individual. Nonetheless, he was a hard businessman. At one point, he took pride in developing "win-win" tactics with his employees; by the time of the Homestead strike, he had obviously moved in a different direction, as he supported a touch, hard-nosed attack on unions and employees.

Among his goals developed in the latter part of the 19th Century--to give away his rapidly developing fortune. He donated for development of libraries, he created an organization devoted to peace, he funded an organization aimed at advancing the sciences, he provided support for faculty and students at colleges, he endowed the Carnegie Corporation, he supported music, and so on.

In the end, this book, although very long, is well written, so that the pages fly by. Nasaw does a fair job portraying Carnegie, warts and all. He notes his tough stance against his own workers (after earlier having been praised as a friend of labor), his sometimes ostentatious efforts to become known as a man of letters, his desire to give world leaders a piece of his mind (irritating people like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in the process). In the end, despite his diminutive stature, he was a giant in American history.
1 like · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Andrew Carnegie.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.