The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles (Knopf, 2009)
T. J. Stiles has taught at Columbia University and held the Gilder Lehrman Fellowship in American History. He won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for his work on The First Tycoon.
Biographies generally fall into two categories: exciting or boring. The First Tycoon is riveting.
Vanderbilt may be the most-driven, power hungry, greedy, and downright ruthless businessman who has ever lived. And in the process of being so, he destroyed monopolies owned by aristocrats, essentially paved the way for the modern American corporation, and brought progress to not just New York, but America at large. He even helped win the Civil War for the Union, and through guiding military operations ensured that his businesses could operate in Nicaragua (pg. 299, 343). The ironic part: As Vanderbilt toppled monopolies, he gladly became one, several times over. Continue Reading…