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The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Vintage) Paperback – 11 May 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (11 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031745
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031740
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 89,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Stiles writes with care and panache about the quintessential `robber baron,' a man widely revered as well as hated." --The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009

"Superbly written and researched . . . Worthy of its subject." --The Economist, 2009

"In this whacking new biography of Vanderbilt, T. J. Stiles . . . demonstrates a brute eloquence of his own. This is a mighty--and mighty confident--work, one that moves with force and conviction and imperious wit through Vanderbilt's noisy life and times . . . I read eagerly and avidly. This is state-of- the-art biography, crisper and more piquant than a 600-page book has any right to be." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times, 2009

"The definitive biography of Commodore Vanderbilt. Both as portrait of an American original and as a book that brings to life an important slice of American history long neglected, this is biography at its very best. A magnificent achievement." --Arthur Vanderbilt II, author of Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt, 2009

"Very absorbing . . . [The First Tycoon] is in fact much more than a biography. The book is filled with important, exhaustively researched and indeed fascinating details that would profit every student of American business and social history to read."
--Richard M. Abrams, San Francisco Chronicle, 2009 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. Kelly on 18 Aug 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would imagine a huge amount of work must have gone into this book. The story truly is epic and spans a seminal period of US history. Vanderbilt seems to have influenced so many of the formative events of that time, far more so than the average run of the mill US president. He is admirable for his energy, intellect, focus, ferocious determination and straightforward dealing. He was also a buccaneer, obsessively frugal and competitive, and seemed to measure success entirely by the amount of money he could make and keep. The way he dealt with his family and his attitude to social matters would not attract much admiration today, but then he made his family fabulously wealthy and created many thousands of new jobs. More significantly, he helped breakdown the aristocratic cronyism inherited from the old world in ways which enabled the US to lay the foundations of its future wealth.

According to the book, and it is persuasive, Vanderbilt created and refined business models which are in wide use today. It reminds us of the old truths - success being a product of consistent, long term effort, rather than short term enthusiasm, the importance of being able to handle disappointment and failure, the willingness to develop judgement and take calculated risks, etc.

I loved the book because, amongst its many qualities, it is well structured, easy to read and avoids the kind of sensational treatment characters like Vanderbilt sometimes attract. It does not pronounce judgement. Rather, it demonstrates an even balance and historical scholarship. But, it also reads like an adventure story and could make a stunning film with a Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role.

My only criticism is that the although the book has been beautifully produced, I would have preferred a lightweight paper back version which didn't consume so much of the luggage allowance.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 Aug 2009
Format: Hardcover
Robber baron Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt emerges from T.J. Stiles's biography as a captivating character and a ferocious competitor. Nineteenth-century America's most powerful tycoon had an imposing presence. At more than 200 pounds and six feet tall (two inches taller than the average American male at the time), Vanderbilt stood ramrod straight. A ferocious street fighter in his youth, he remained hale and hearty into his 80s. As a young steamboat skipper, Vanderbilt often beat his business rivals senseless and took their customers. Stiles tracks Vanderbilt's remarkable business career, from his rowdy youth and family life to his later achievements as America's founding capitalist, king of steamers, trains and international shipping. getAbstract recommends this fascinating, colorful book to anyone who wants to learn about the birth of the modern corporation through the life of its grandstanding father.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gaurav Sharma VINE VOICE on 23 July 2009
Format: Hardcover
Capitalism may have been wounded by recent events but it is hard to forget that capitalists in 19th century undoubtedly laid the path for America to emerge as the world's largest economy. Among that bunch of hard-nosed, ruthless, money driven businessmen was Cornelius Vanderbilt. At the time of death in 1877, he left behind a fortune of $100 million which equates to $143 billion in 2007 money terms according to research by the New York Times. This brilliant, unbiased and honest book by T.J. Stiles brings us the story of Vanderbilt's life.

Two salient points make the book very engaging. First point is the depth of T.J. Stiles' research while the second is the brilliant way in which he has described the saga. He does not offer the reader a dove-eyed account of the subject's life or some awestruck narrative of wealth generation or accumulation by an individual. Instead, this book crucially addresses Vanderbilt's bequest to American capitalism as a whole.

The subject is a difficult one. Capitalists would laud him, but Keynesians would hate him. Disciples of Adam Smith would opine Vanderbilt was the ultimate believer in market forces. Yet at the same time, his railroad and steamboat businesses often used muscle and money to constrict competition whenever and wherever they could.

His youth was spent manning his "budget" (often illegal) steamboat in to Manhattan before moving to starting a shipping business to serve the Gold Rush. A foray into railways followed in 1862, a business which burgeoned into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad by 1869, earning him the sobriquet of "Commodore".

The Commodore, according to Stiles' account, was not one to be trifled with.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 Jun 2009
Format: Hardcover
"For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safely?" -- 1 Samuel 24:19

Cornelius Vanderbilt was driven by a desire to best his commercial rivals while realizing that he might in the future need to ally with them. As a result, he was a tough competitor while being careful to develop a reputation as someone who was trustworthy. You'll learn the consequences of this compulsion in The First Tycoon. And I'm sure many will pick up this book wanting to pick up tips on how to accumulate a great fortune.

If you are like me, you'll find many pleasant surprises in this book as many unexpected perspectives and dimensions emerge. This book could just easily serve as a primer on continuing business model innovation, an expertise that Vanderbilt seems to have had to an extraordinary degree. In addition, the book is a marvelous look into the dynamics of unregulated markets with relatively few competitors and how quickly monopolies and cozy oligopolies emerge that fleece the public. Further, the work does great justice to explaining how to gain cost and competitive advantages in transportation businesses (reduce the price, the hassle, and the costs). Beyond that, The First Tycoon is a definite primer on how to outmaneuver competitors in business and on the stock market. You'll also learn how to rig an unregulated stock market or to corner the market. Those who are interested in leadership will see many good models of how to go from doing to leading.

If that's not enough, you'll also learn about how a great success in business wasn't such a good father . . . and how he coped with the failings of his youngsters.

Those who like social history will find that the book is filled with much good information about the times and what it was like to live then.
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