The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Written by:
T.J. Stiles
Narrated by:
Mark Deakins

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
April 2009
28 hours 46 minutes
A gripping, groundbreaking biography of the combative man whose genius and force of will created modern capitalism.

Founder of a dynasty, builder of the original Grand Central, creator of an impossibly vast fortune, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt is an American icon. Humbly born on Staten Island during George Washington’s presidency, he rose from boatman to builder of the nation’s largest fleet of steamships to lord of a railroad empire. Lincoln consulted him on steamship strategy during the Civil War; Jay Gould was first his uneasy ally and then sworn enemy; and Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, was his spiritual counselor. We see Vanderbilt help to launch the transportation revolution, propel the Gold Rush, reshape Manhattan, and invent the modern corporation—in fact, as T. J. Stiles elegantly argues, Vanderbilt did more than perhaps any other individual to create the economic world we live in today.

In The First Tycoon, Stiles offers the first complete, authoritative biography of this titan, and the first comprehensive account of the Commodore’s personal life. It is a sweeping, fast-moving epic, and a complex portrait of the great man. Vanderbilt, Stiles shows, embraced the philosophy of the Jacksonian Democrats and withstood attacks by his conservative enemies for being too competitive. He was a visionary who pioneered business models. He was an unschooled fistfighter who came to command the respect of New York’s social elite. And he was a father who struggled with a gambling-addicted son, a husband who was loving yet abusive, and, finally, an old man who was obsessed with contacting the dead.

The First Tycoon is the exhilarating story of a man and a nation maturing together: the powerful account of a man whose life was as epic and complex as American history itself.
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Robert F.

I liked it

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Sean B.

Highly recommend. Great read.

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Dianne M.

Vanderbilt was recommended to me after I enjoyed reading Chernow's Rockefeller. I enjoyed this study of Vanderbilt very much. The author goes into great detail regarding the financial shenanigans, the use of credit, the drops in the stock market, the corrupt political system that picked winners and losers, etc. There are definite echos from the past reverberating in our present. I found Vanderbilt to be a less complicated man than Rockefeller but the one mention of their intersection did not leave a positive point of view of Rockefeller. I couldn't believe the two men didn't have more interaction. Carnegie is mentioned a few times but not with much depth. I see Vanderbilt now as a historical figure who really had great effect through his lifetime and much beyond. Sadly, he played with the occult and found it difficult to love and support his son who had major problems with addiction. I enjoyed the author's discussion of the post-Civil War culture of death as this topic is significant in history but rarely discussed. I was impressed with the author's view of technological advances that occurred in Vanderbilt's lifetime as compared to the prior 300 years.

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
This title is due for release on April 21, 2009.

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The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
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