The First Tycoon, by TJ Stiles, is a story of “The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.”
The First Tycoon is an incredibly well-researched and well-written biography of one of America’s most successful and powerful businessmen of all times. But don’t take my word for it…
The First Tycoon is a Pulitzer Prize winner, a National Book Award Winner and a New York Times Notable Book. So in this book review I’ll give you a detailed look at what you should expect from The First Tycoon.
I’ll share my favorite parts of The First Tycoon so you can know exactly what you’re in for before buying the book.
Book Summary – The First Tycoon:
The First Tycoon tells the dramatic and inspiring story of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt. The book starts in 1794 and spans the entire life of this American business icon. It details his early days on his father’s New York farm. And then shows how Vanderbilt first got into business by developing his skills as a sailor and running a small sailboat ferrying supplies and people between Staten Island and Long Island.
From there, things only get more exciting.
The First Tycoon shows the characteristics and influences that shaped Vanderbilt’s approach to life and business. It explains how he got his first job, and saved up money to buy his own boats and start his own enterprises ferrying people and supplies around New York Harbor and the surrounding areas.
From there, Vanderbilt continues to get involved with shipping, sailing and the exciting new development of steamships. The biography also does a great job showing how Vanderbilt’s character traits influence his approach to business, and make him an efficient and effective business operator.
Of course, Vanderbilt’s rise to power wasn’t a smooth sail.
The world of early American enterprise was a competitive and challenging world, where disputes were often settled with fistfights. It’s neat to see how Vanderbilt relied on his physical stature and strength to intimidate competitors and slap sailors into place.
From there, Vanderbilt’s empire continues to grow, as he established steamship lines around America and played a pivotal role in the development of California. He also worked closely with the government, and went to great lengths to support the North during the American Civil War.
Vanderbilt’s success continues to snowball as he turned his focus from steamships to railroads. Vanderbilt used the new corporate structure to build an empire and a Dynasty that would last long after he passed away.
All in all…
The First Tycoon is an incredibly eye opening and informative read that shows the factors, forces and influences that made Vanderbilt such an iconic business man.
Now that you have an idea of what The First Tycoon is all about, let me tell you what the best parts of the book are.
The Best Parts of The First Tycoon:
I can’t stress it enough: The First Tycoon is an amazing read. It’s a very inspiring story. And the book gives unparalleled insight into this American business icon. And there are two aspects of the book that I keep reflecting on.
First of all, The First Tycoon does a wonderful job highlighting not only the history and development of Vanderbilt, but also the development of New York City, and America as a whole. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, since Vanderbilt was such an influential figure in the industry that helped power America’s development. But it’s incredibly insightful to see how Manhattan developed from a little trading outpost to the hub of American finance and business.
Secondly, The First Tycoon is incredibly well-researched. The biography gives a fair, objective and balanced look at the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. While a lot of other biographies of Vanderbilt focus on his status as a “robber baron,” The First Tycoon takes a much more careful and nuanced look at the life and times of Commodore Vanderbilt.
One particularly interesting aspects is how Vanderbilt not only used his operational abilities to grow his business, but also how he embraced the innovative corporate structures that were developing in the mid-1800’s. It’s hard to appreciate now. But Vanderbilt’s ability to build an empire using consolidations of corporations was entirely unprecedented at the time.
The First Tycoon – The Final Word:
The First Tycoon is a great read, especially if you have some time to relax this summer or if you are looking for inspiration for your own business ambitions. Before reading this book I really didn’t appreciate the role of Cornelius Vanderbilt. But now I can’t stop thinking about his amazing influence on the world of commerce. For that reason, I recommend you buy The First Tycoon on Amazon.
The only word of warning is that this book is a bit of a tome. It comes in at about 600 pages, and although the story of Vanderbilt moves quickly it is a bit of a commitment to get through this book. But when you realize how much Vanderbilt accomplished it’s amazing the book wasn’t longer. If you’re still looking for more information on The First Tycoon, check out the video book review below.