From the award-winning author of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War comes the first full look at the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt--the complex and combative man whose genius and force of will gave birth to modern capitalism.
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 time ... full of sharp, unexpected turns ... The most flat-out enjoyable sections are those that deal with New York’s great steamship wars of the first half of the 19th century ... Mr. Stiles is clear-eyed about his subject’s nearly amoral rapacity ... Mr. Stiles gets Vanderbilt the man onto paper. He is eloquent on Vanderbilt’s love of horses and horse racing, his tangled relationships with his 13 children and his dabbling in the occult ... There are moments in any biography of this size when your eyes are going to glaze over; I certainly did not wish The First Tycoon were longer. But 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.
... eminently readable and engaging ... a landmark study that significantly enhances one's understanding of U.S. economic history ... What makes this book truly remarkable is the author's breathtaking grasp of history; as Stiles comes to grips with contemporary essayists such as Charles Francis Adams, who wrote on Vanderbilt, one realizes that his ability to integrate economic, technological, intellectual, and political history makes him one of the most exciting writers in the field.
Vanderbilt’s story is indeed epic, and so is The First Tycoon ... The book’s length will intimidate many casual readers, as will the in-depth discussion of business strategies. But those who brave its heft will find many rewards ... Stiles is a perceptive and witty writer with a remarkable ability to paint a picture of the America in which Vanderbilt lived ... Readers looking for heroes won’t find them here. Everybody is out for a buck and it doesn’t help that Vanderbilt was never a terribly likable man in the first place.