Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

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by Edward J. Renehan, Jr. Edward J.
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A remarkably unflattering life of the 19th-century transportation magnate who amassed the largest private fortune in American history. "Distant," "quarrelsome," "forbidding," "parsimonious," "vindictive," "ravenous," "braggart," "boor"-these are some of the words Renehan uses to describe Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose business cunning kept him always a step ahead of the competition in sailboats, steamships and railroads. Oblivious to any concept of the public good, uninterested in anything remotely cultural, devoid of generosity, he appears to have committed only two charitable acts-purchasing a church and endowing what became Vanderbilt University, both at the behest of his second wife. He briefly banished his first wife to an insane asylum for her refusal to move with him from Staten Island to Greenwich Village. He disdained his dozen children. Indeed, he appears to have had no interior life whatsoever, finding amusement only in drinking, horseracing and whore-chasing. His too-public, late-life liaison with Tennie Claflin, sister of the notorious clairvoyant/spiritualist/prostitute Victoria Woodhull, prompted the family to engineer a "face-saving" marriage to a woman 44 years his junior. Meanwhile, the Commodore finished out his days sporadically demented from syphilis. Renehan (Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons, 2005, etc.) convincingly presents Vanderbilt as the prototype of the purely economic man, a real-life Ebenezer Scrooge unclaimed by any cult of idealism and driven purely by profit. Renehan meticulously tracks all the brilliant, often shady business transactions-he's especially good on Vanderbilt's controversial role at theheart of Gibbons v. Ogden, the famous Supreme Court case establishing the supremacy of the Commerce Clause-that placed the Commodore at the top of the economic heap. In a public letter to partners he felt had cheated him, Vanderbilt wrote, "I won't sue you, for the law is too slow. I'll ruin you." And then he did exactly that. A warts and more warts portrait of a brilliantly successful, genuinely despicable man.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465002559
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
10/28/2007
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet 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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Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Started to skip pages several times in meaningless detailed sections. Even as a business owner and MBA who appreciates biographys of great acheivers the author missed the mark.