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Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbiltby Edward J Renehan
Synopses & Reviews
Using previously unreleased archives, Edward J. Renehan Jr. narrates the compelling life of Cornelius Vanderbilt: willful progenitor of modern American business. Vanderbilt made his initial fortune building ferry and cargo routes for sailing vessels. Then he moved into steamboats and railroads. With the New York Central, Vanderbilt established the nation’s first major integrated rail system, linking New York with Boston, Montreal, Chicago, and St. Louis. At the same time, he played a key role in establishing New York as the financial center of the United States. When he died in 1877, Vanderbilt left a fortune that, in today’s dollars, would dwarf that of even Bill Gates. Off Wall Street, Vanderbilt was a hard-drinking egotist and whoremonger devoid of manners or charity. He disinherited most of his numerous children and received an editorial rebuke from Mark Twain for his lack of public giving. Commodore sheds startling new light on many aspects of Vanderbilt’s business and private life including, most notably, the revelation that advanced stage syphilis marred his last years. This is the definitive biography of a man whose influence on American life and commerce towers over all who followed him.
"The latest from Renehan, author most recently of a much-praised biography of another titan of 19th-century business, Jay Gould, is a thorough look at Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794 — 1877), who rose from nothing to amass one of the great fortunes in American history ('more than $158 billion' in 2005 dollars) in the burgeoning steamship and railroad industries. A brilliant, vicious businessman with little education, manners or patience for fools — including his long-suffering wife and 14 children — Vanderbilt makes an almost prototypical figure of pure American laissez-faire entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, for significant portions of this bio, the man gets lost behind the icon. Though Renehan's writing proves colorful, insightful and efficient in describing Vanderbilt's spirited early adventures taking on the steamship monopolies of former senator Aaron Ogden and others, the middle third of the book is too often bogged down in details that will appeal mainly to the business-minded — an endless cascade of ships (and their vital stats), routes and dollar amounts — and overshadow both narrative and character. Still, Vanderbilt's personal life is fascinating; highlights include the Vanderbilts' grand tour of Europe, his lifelong penchant for prostitutes (including the Woodhull sisters, whom Vanderbilt made the first female brokers on Wall Street) and the syphilis-induced madness that plagued his final years — material new in this biography and a testament to Renehan's typically assiduous research." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
He built a national railroad. He was the reason why New York became the financial center of the US. He amassed a fortune worth about $143 billion today. He gave less than one percent of it to charity. Vanderbilt's variable but extremely lucrative career began by his building ferry and cargo routes, leading to his establishing transportation networks and developing financial systems to support his and others' projects. While he examines the reasons for Vanderbilt's success, journalist and independent scholar Renehan makes good use of previously unknown sources to answer the mysteries, including Vanderbilt's self-imposed identity as a completely economic man, the relatively low opinion in which others in his class held him, his strained relations with his family and his odd behavior in his old age. The result is both a rigorous analysis of Vanderbilt's financial success and an accessible examination of both his contexts and his psyche. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The first modern biography of an American financial giant.
About the Author
Edward J. Rehehan Jr. is the author of several books including Dark Genius of Wall Street, The Kennedys at War, The Lion’s Pride, The Secret Six, and John Burroughs. He contributes to such publications as American Heritage and has appeared on the History Channel, C-SPAN, and PBS. He lives in Rhode Island.
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