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stellavision
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Perhaps I should not properly review this book since I haven't yet finished it, but I'm recommending this biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt mostly on the strength of its subject matter. Unfortunately, the author suffers from a bit of the usual altruism-is-good rubbish, vaguely smearing Vanderbilt for not being a philanthropist and gratuitously equating Ayn Rand's philosophy with social Darwinism. However, Vanderbilt is such a fascinating person that when Renehan is simply reporting the facts and not editorializing, I can't put the book down. I want to know more about this titan of American industry!

Few other biographers have covered Vanderbilt. I would recommend W.A. Croffut's book Vanderbilts and the History of Their Fortune, which was written at the turn of the 20th century. Although Renehan points out that Croffut and other Vanderbilt biographers may have fudged their facts at times, the Croffut book is worth reading because of its benevolent attitude towards business and the tycoons who are the prime movers behind it. Sadly, this attitude is absent from Commodore, so I'd read Renehan for the most detailed account and Croffut for a refreshing view.

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I definitely second Stella's recommendation on Commodore. That is, it is a combination of a great collection of facts about the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt coupled with gleeful caluminations of the Industrial Revolution and its great industrialists. Unfortunately, it is one of the few accessible books that I know about that covers the life and business ventures of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Access to these facts makes this book worth reading and actually, quite enjoyable. However, if you choose to read this book, brace yourself for lots of bashing of Vanderbilt's business achievements.

I especially found it annoying how the author seemed to really relish constantly repeating how illiterate and adverse to education Vanderbilt was. I understand the need to accurately portray Vanderbilt as a person. However, the impression I got from reading the book is that the author repeatedly this sentiments often because he seemed to relish bashing Vanderbilt because he was a great industrialist and not from a desire to portray his character accurately.

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I especially found it annoying how the author seemed to really relish constantly repeating how illiterate and adverse to education Vanderbilt was. I understand the need to accurately portray Vanderbilt as a person. However, the impression I got from reading the book is that the author repeatedly this sentiments often because he seemed to relish bashing Vanderbilt because he was a great industrialist and not from a desire to portray his character accurately.

I wholeheartedly agree! I get it, he couldn't spell and had little command of grammar -- which is so insignificant compared to his remarkable achievements that I am more than willing to overlook this foible. (And this from a former editor -- I'm usually hypersensitive to bad spelling and grammar!) But Renehan beats it into the ground. It's almost as if Renehan was thinking, "I'll never do anything as great as Vanderbilt did...but at least I can spell!"

This is why I recommend the Croffut book as well -- for a healthy contrast to this attitude.

Edited by stellavision
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  • 2 months later...
You guys probably don't know how much I appreciate this review. GIVE ME MORE!

Have any of you read The Myth of the Robber Barons? Does this cover Vanderbilt very well? Is it a good book?

But I want more information, and more books if you have any.

I read The Myth of the Robber Barons, and liked it very much. It's more of a series of case studies than a biography, so it presents several instances of heroic businessmen (one of whom is Vanderbilt) and their success rather than going in-depth into one man's life. The author definitely views businessmen as good, and makes a clear distinction between political entrepreneurs and real businessmen. Definitely a recommended read. Commodore focuses on one person, so it goes more into detail about Vanderbilt's achievements and personal habits through the course of his life. Unfortunately, the author is very much of the "with great wealth comes great responsibility to be an altruist" camp, so the book suffers from his editorial comments. However, the facts of Vanderbilt's life are so inspiring and interesting that when the author is just reporting, rather than commenting, it's a great read. As I previously mentioned, W.A. Croffut's Vanderbilts and the History of Their Fortune is a healthy contrast in attitude, if not as deeply immersed in facts and details. So I'd recommend that one too, for the sheer enjoyment of reading an author who clearly has a deep reverence for achievement in business.

Edited by softwareNerd
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You guys probably don't know how much I appreciate this review. GIVE ME MORE!

I am glad to hear it. I have been planning to write a whole slew of book reviews on Amazon.com in the near future. One of them will be on this book.

Have any of you read The Myth of the Robber Barons? Does this cover Vanderbilt very well? Is it a good book?

I have read this book. I think the chapter on Cornelius Vanderbilt is excellent as is the rest of the book.

But I want more information, and more books if you have any.

I am not sure what you are looking for since you have not specified. If you want recommendations on other books similar to The Myth of the Robber Barons, I recommend Burton Folsom's Empire Builders and Andrew Bernstein's The Capitalist Manifesto.

Feel free to ask for more recommendations. I read a lot and I enjoy discussing books.

Edited by softwareNerd
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