Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Click Here Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop now

Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
14
4.7 out of 5 stars
5 star
10
4 star
4
3 star
0
2 star
0
1 star
0
Format: Kindle Edition|Change
Price:£10.68

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 18 August 2009
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.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 August 2009
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.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 23 July 2009
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. He crushed his enemies and those who cheated him with an iron hand and a sort of ruthlessness befitting a motion picture schemer. In that day and age, at the peak of his business prowess, it is no exaggeration to say that everyone travelling between New York and Boston used either his trains or steamboats. A Wall Street crash came in 1873 but Vanderbilt still prospered.

While Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee) still carries his name following a $1 million grant by him prior to his death, the Commodore's real legacy lay elsewhere. By virtue of tenacity or ruthlessness, by hook or by crook, by stomping on throats of rivals or shaking hands with others, he put together America's first Mega Corporation.

Modus operandi and ethics of American Megacorps were to change in later years, but it all began under the Commodore's "not-so-very" benign and profit-driven watch. The author has brilliantly chronicled the man, his mission and legacy. This book is a good read for a general audience. Additionally those interested in Economics, American industrial and social history or capitalism would enjoy it even more.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 January 2013
Although this review concern's Hearst (Kenneth Whyte's THE UNCROWNED KING), I'd like to contrast it with Porter's HOWARD HUGHES and Cornelius Vanderbilt (T.J. Stiles' THE FIRST TYCOON). The first two were born with the proverbial silver spoon (although it their cases gold or, better still, platinum would be more germane), the third was poor and, unlike the other two, just barely educated, but they were boys, boys with boyish spirit and unlimited ingenuity. Hearst, in competition with 48 New York newspapers, made his the best, not because of his dad's money (although he couldn't have done it without his dad's backing), but thanks to endless work, boundless energy and unrestrained imagination. The stories behind Hearst's competition -- with the likes of Dana and Pulitzer who make for passionate reading - as well as the times in which Hearst lived, are reasons enough to read this wonderful book. There are also fabulous vignettes into the likes of Stephen Crane of Red-Badge-of-Courage fame (and his sexual proclivities - although Whyte being Whyte we don't learn much concerning THAT), about the Case of the Headless Torso, about the Corbett-Fitzsimmon's fight (this being both epic and STRANGE) and I won't disclose the content of the chapter entitled Two Warm Babes and a Hot Hansom. We don't learn much about the sex lives of Hearst or Vanderbilt, although from Porter - Porter being Porter -- we gain insight into Hughes, right down to his erogenous zones. I began this review by talking about boys and boyish spirit because there's something about having a God-sent handle (and I thank God every day for mine) that makes boys dare anything from fighter piloting to skydiving. What is less understood, by me at least, is what happens in later life, when the old like Vanderbilt become embroiled in ruthlessly vindictive family squabbles and Hughes hides himself away, sheltered by Mormons, his hair, beard and finger nails left uncut. But Hearst played the game well, in my opinion, fathering even a son who went on to win a Pulitzer (Would the original Pulitzer have turned over in his grave?).
My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 January 2013
Although this review concern's Hearst (Kenneth Whyte's THE UNCROWNED KING), I'd like to contrast it with Porter's HOWARD HUGHES and Cornelius Vanderbilt (T.J. Stiles' THE FIRST TYCOON). The first two were born with the proverbial silver spoon (although it their cases gold or, better still, platinum would be more germane), the third was poor and, unlike the other two, just barely educated, but they were boys, boys with boyish spirit and unlimited ingenuity. Hearst, in competition with 48 New York newspapers, made his the best, not because of his dad's money (although he couldn't have done it without his dad's backing), but thanks to endless work, boundless energy and unrestrained imagination. The stories behind Hearst's competition -- with the likes of Dana and Pulitzer who make for passionate reading - as well as the times in which Hearst lived, are reasons enough to read this wonderful book. There are also fabulous vignettes into the likes of Stephen Crane of Red-Badge-of-Courage fame (and his sexual proclivities - although Whyte being Whyte we don't learn much concerning THAT), about the Case of the Headless Torso, about the Corbett-Fitzsimmon's fight (this being both epic and STRANGE) and I won't disclose the content of the chapter entitled Two Warm Babes and a Hot Hansom. We don't learn much about the sex lives of Hearst or Vanderbilt, although from Porter - Porter being Porter -- we gain insight into Hughes, right down to his erogenous zones. I began this review by talking about boys and boyish spirit because there's something about having a God-sent handle (and I thank God every day for mine) that makes boys dare anything from fighter piloting to skydiving. What is less understood, by me at least, is what happens in later life, when the old like Vanderbilt become embroiled in ruthlessly vindictive family squabbles and Hughes hides himself away, sheltered by Mormons, his hair, beard and finger nails left uncut. But Hearst played the game well, in my opinion, fathering even a son who went on to win a Pulitzer (Would the original Pulitzer have turned over in his grave?).
My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
The highest praise you can usually give a biographer is when you find yourself enthralled in the life of a person you know little about and who did things you're not remotely interested in. That is true testament to the skill of the writer. For me that is definitely the case with this life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. I knew who Vanderbilt was, of course - one of the mighty 'robber barons' of the Gilded Age, the richest man of his time, a name usually spoken in connection with those of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Rothschild and their ilk. But that was about all I knew, and I was even less interested in early American economic history, or the history of corporations, consolidation, monopolies, the stock market, bubbles and panics and so on.

This book is no hagiography but it is fair-minded. Whilst the caricature view of the robber barons is suggested by the nickname, they were all human, after all, and as such more complicated and complex figures than history tends to give credit for. Vanderbilt was no exception. He was an entirely self-made man; indeed, the first of the self-made tycoons, for the economic system and business organisations that would make so many more in his wake did not exist when he made his start in life. It is no exaggeration to say that much of the modern business and financial world that we know today we owe to Vanderbilt. Not entirely, and not alone, but perhaps more than any other man.

Vanderbilt was one of the prime movers behind the dramatic improvement of transportation - first the steamboat and then the railroad - that did so much to open up the interior of the United States, that created first new markets and then the possibility of the country as one entire single market. He was the first to challenge the monopolies that had previously existed, that benefited the old colonial 'aristocracies', to espouse the concept of competition as a good thing. He presided over the first massive corporations, the first massive mergers - it was Vanderbilt more than anyone who pioneered the concept of a corporation as an institution in and of itself, rather than a collection of business-minded individuals all individually responsible for the doings of the said company. It was Vanderbilt who first mastered the new concept of 'intangible' assets, the idea that money could exist independent from its equivalent in physical gold, that the value of a company was more than the sum of its physical assets but what the market deemed it was worth.

And it was Vanderbilt who first exemplified the massive gulf in wealth between the richest of the rich and the poor, the concentration of immense economic power in the hands of a few gigantic corporations, the idea that the power of these corporations could rival that of the state itself - issues that are all too familiar to us today. The path from the Occupy movement and the top 1%, global corporations like Apple and Microsoft, can be traced directly back to Cornelius Vanderbilt. As such, he is still an immensely relevant figure in American history - and T.J. Stiles doesn't fail to do him justice in this book.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 September 2013
Biographies often stand or fall by the linguistic style of the author rather than the actions of the subject. In this case TJ Stiles does an excellent job of bringing to life the environment and times of Vanderbilt from his early years working on ships, through to monopolising the steamship industry and later the New York railroad system. Stiles clearly has a soft spot for Vanderbilt often denouncing criticism that others have laid at Vanderbilt's door (being self righteous, cold and a self serving autocrat.)

Upon finishing the biography I felt as though I had thoroughly submerged myself in the topic and spurred me on to read more about the Vanderbilts generally. My only criticism is that there were no contemporary comparisons of the value of the dollar. It was quite hard to judge just how much $600,000 dollars was worth in 1860 and Stiles doesn't offer any assistance. However the subject was clearly researched and thoroughly footnoted which made the biography seem quite believable.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 9 January 2015
Having recently been to North Carolina and visited Biltmore, I wanted to read more about Vanderbilt, and how he made his fortune. This is a very well researched and written book, and apart from telling the story of Cornelius Vanderbilt himself, it is a fascinating history of the United States in the Nineteenth Century, the early days of steam paddle boats and railways, the Civil War, and the foundation of the US dollar, corporations, corruption in government and much more. Highly recommended.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
"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. You'll never look at certain parts of New York and New England in the same way after reading about their origins.

Some may complain that they wanted more of a particular aspect of the story. Those who wanted just a biography, an ever deeper look into the man, may be somewhat disappointed. Much of the book doesn't get below the surface of Vanderbilt's psyche. But perhaps there wasn't very much to reveal about someone whom others had reason to avoid annoying.

I thought this book was so revealing that I spent a lot of time studying it, the first time I can say that about any book in recent years. I learned a lot and you will, too!
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 February 2012
This is a magnificent book. If you like a biography and are interested in history and indeed how the modern, western world was shaped then this is rather good. fantastically researched and well written.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse



Need customer service? Click here

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)