With deep and imaginative research and graceful writing, T. J. Stiles’s The First Tycoon tells the extraordinary story of a brutally competitive man who was hard to love but irresistibly interesting as a truly pivotal historical figure. With few letters and no diaries, and with layers of legend to carve through, Stiles captures Cornelius Vanderbilt as a person and as a force who shaped the transportation revolution, all but invented unbridled American capitalism, and left his mark not only all over New York City but, for better or worse, all over our economic landscape.
Citation for the National Book Award in Nonfiction 2009
T.J. Stiles presents the magnate as a man in full.
Boston Globe Best Books of 2009
Stiles writes with care and panache about the quintessential ‘robber baron,’ a man widely revered as well as hated.
The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009
A definitive biography . . . Stiles brings the Commodore, warts and all, to life in this new study, which is at once up-to-date in scholarly terms, analytically incisive, and lucidly written.
Raleigh News and Observer Best Books of 2009
A monumental biography.
The Kansas City Star Top 100 Books of 2009
At long last a biography worthy of the Commodore, meticulously researched, superbly written, and filled with original insights.
Maury Klein, author of The Life and Legend of Jay Gould
T.J. Stiles writes with the magisterial sweep of a great historian and the keen psychological insight of a great biographer. The First Tycoon is the fullest, most perceptive chronicle ever written of the life and times of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the epitome of unfettered, winner-take-all capitalism. With panache and admirable ease, Stiles maps the financial and political currents on which Vanderbilt buccaneered and shows that it was Vanderbilt, more than anyone else, who enabled business to evolve into Big Business.
Patricia O’Toole, author of When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House
T.J. Stiles has given us a balanced and absorbing biography of this colorful and often ruthless entrepreneur, the first of the ‘robber barons’ who transformed the American economy in the nineteenth century.
James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
The First Tycoon is a brilliant exposition of the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the entrepreneurial environment that he shaped. Readers will look at Grand Central Station and much else in American life with fresh eyes.
Joyce Appleby, author of The Restless Revolution: A History of Capitalism
The definitive biography of Commodore Vanderbilt. Both as portrait of an American original and as a book that brings to life an important slice of American history long neglected, this is biography at its very best. A magnificent achievement.
Arthur Vanderbilt II, author of Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt
In this whacking new biography of Vanderbilt, T. J. 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 times . . . 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.
Dwight Garner, The New York Times
The illuminating, authoritative portrait of Vanderbilt that has been missing for so long.
Alice Schroeder, The Washington Post
Very absorbing . . . [The First Tycoon] is in fact much more than a biography. The book is filled with important, exhaustively researched and indeed fascinating details that would profit every student of American business and social history to read.
Richard M. Abrams, San Francisco Chronicle
Perceptive and fluently written . . . Stiles writes with both the panache of a fine journalist and the analytical care of a seasoned scholar. And he offers a fruitful way to think about the larger history of American elites as well as the life of one of their most famous members.
Michael Kazin, The New York Times Book Review
Monumental and outrageously entertaining . . . Stiles writes in a style the Commdore would have appreciated: swift, economical and direct, daring but never hyperbolic. The nearly 600 pages of text seem to fly through your hands . . . Stiles has a genuine gift for putting complex historical subjects into perspective without lapsing into revisionism.
Allen Barra, truthdig.com
Monumental . . . Stiles has a gift for making readers admire unsavory characters. When I put down this arresting saga . . . I raised a toast to everything the old rascal did for the U.S. . . . [The First Tycoon] resembles a five-course meal at a three-star restaurant: rich and pleasurable.
James Pressley, Bloomberg.com
Superbly written and researched . . . Worthy of its subject.
Sweeping . . . [A] magisterial, exemplary work . . . [that] offers entry into the storm-tossed world of our current tycoons and the rough waters they have piloted us into.
William Bergman, American History Magazine
Superbly researched and elegantly written . . . Stiles’s will likely prove to be the definitive biography of this epic entrepreneur.
Martin Morse Wooster, Philanthropy Magazine
Stiles has painted a full-bodied, nuanced picture of the man . . . Elegance of style and fair-minded intent illuminate Stiles’s latest . . . profound exploration of American culture in the raw.
Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe
“The First Tycoon has been widely praised, and rightly so . . . [An] epic biography.
Vanderbilt’s story is indeed epic, and so is The First Tycoon . . . Stiles is a perceptive and witty writer with a remarkable ability to paint a picture of the America in which Vanderbilt lived.
Randy Dotinga, The Christian Science Monitor
Shrewd . . . As he did in his much-acclaimed Jesse James, Stiles limns the meteoric career of an impetuous spirit. Rich in detail, the narrative reveals much about not only the unschooled genius . . . but also the national culture he helped transform . . . A landmark study.
Starred review, Booklist
Rousing . . . An exemplary biography.
Starred review, Kirkus
Thoroughly researched . . . Stiles meticulously separates myths from facts in a book that compares favorably with David Nasaw’s Andrew Carnegie . . . Dispassionately revising our portrait of Vanderbilt, Stiles has produced a work highly recommended.
Starred review, Library Journal
A penetrating portrait of a complex, self-made titan.
Citation for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography 2010
“Stiles writes with
both the panache of a fine journalist and the analytical care of a seasoned
scholar. And he offers a fruitful way to think about the larger history of
American elites as well as the life of one of their most famous members.”
New York Times Book Review
“Stiles, a superb
researcher, has unearthed quantities of new material and crafted them into the
illuminating, authoritative portrait of Vanderbilt that has been missing for so
more than a biography. The book is filled with important, exhaustively
researched, and indeed fascinating details that would profit every student of
American business and social history to read.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Stiles has painted a
full-bodied, nuanced picture of the man…Elegance of style and fair-minded
intent illuminate Stiles’s latest, expectedly profound exploration of American
culture in the raw.”
“Superbly written and
researched…Worthy of its subject.”
is indeed epic, and so is The First
Tycoon…Stiles is a perceptive and witty writer with a remarkable ability to
paint a picture of the America in which Vanderbilt lived.”
Christian Science Monitor
reminder that Vanderbilt’s life and times still have much to teach us.”
was the right man in the right place at the right time, and the meticulous
Stiles seems to be the right man to tell us about it.”
St. Petersburg Times
provocative…Stiles draws on exhaustive archival research to clear away the
apocryphal and celebrate Vanderbilt as an American icon.”
“Stiles brings the
Commodore, warts and all, to life in this new study, which is at once
up-to-date in scholarly terms, analytically incisive, and lucidly written.”
Raleigh News and Observer
magisterial, exemplary work…[that] offers entry into the storm-tossed world of
our current tycoons and the rough waters they have piloted us into.”
American History Magazine