The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt


T.J. Stiles

I have been transporting a number of biographies of famous men with me over the years as I have moved to a new home. I finally decided that it was time for me to read these books that are both hefty and lengthy. My first challenge is the book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles. This book is dense and includes much detail on what was happening in the US economy and politics during his life.

I learned a great deal about “The Commodore” including the fact that most of his career, he was involved in steamboats, and he was about 70 years old when he entered the railroad market for which he is most associated. Cornelius Vanderbilt had little primary education and lacked a college education. As such, he was a poor writer and he refrained from giving speeches. Regardless, Vanderbilt was a genius in creating the American Corporation – one of the greatest legacies of all time.

I was fascinated to learn how Vanderbilt’s and the actions of a few others moved the stock market. In addition, it was interesting to see his approach to taking over businesses. At times, he would significantly reduce fares and then wait for the competition to buy him out. He also quietly bought stock in rival corporations. He exemplified the phrase, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

This book is not for the light reader and at times I wanted to toss it aside because the amount of information was distracting, but if you like history, you will definitely learn something.