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Villard: The Life And Times Of An American Titan
     

Villard: The Life And Times Of An American Titan

by Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, John Cullen
 

In 1853, Henry Villard arrived in New York from Germany penniless and speaking not a word of English. Within three years, he had mastered the language and was covering the events of the day for the nation's top newspapers. His eyewitness reports on the Civil War earned him the admiration of the newspaper community and of both Prsident Lincoln and General Grant.

Overview

In 1853, Henry Villard arrived in New York from Germany penniless and speaking not a word of English. Within three years, he had mastered the language and was covering the events of the day for the nation's top newspapers. His eyewitness reports on the Civil War earned him the admiration of the newspaper community and of both Prsident Lincoln and General Grant. That success marked the beginning of one of the most impressive careers in American social and financial history.

Brought to life by his great-granddaughter, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, Henry Villard emerges as a man of courage and integrity, a financial wizard, and an enterprising entrepreneur with a penchant for daring risk-taking. Drawing on Villard's diaries, translated by the accomplished writer John Cullen, Villard is a captivating rags-to-riches story. A pioneere American, Villard set up the first news syndicate in the country and soon after catapulted himself into the presidency of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Along the way, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to meet the right people and gain their trust. He was the toast of New York society until the Panic of 1883 nearly ruined him and forced him to return to Germany. Villard's spirit of enterprise, well-known generosity, and extraodinary business acumen ignited his remarkable comeback in this country.

In telling this dramatic story, the authors vividly recreate the world in which Henry Villard lived and offer a new perspective on the politicians and titans who shaped nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America.

Editorial Reviews

Hardy Green
In Villard: The Life and Times of an American Titan, Alexandria Villard de Borchgrave and John Cullen provide a smoothly written and insightful account of the man's life. With such material at hand, who couldn't put together a fascinating book?
BusinessWeek
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With incredible energy and vision, and a knack for being at the right place at the right time, Henry Villard steadily rose from his poor immigrant status to become a business competitor of such 19th-century luminaries as J.P. Morgan and Jay Gould. Bored with school in Germany, Villard defied his well-to-do father's wishes and secretly left for America in 1853 at the age of 18. After a series of dead-end jobs, including a stint as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, he became a correspondent for the German-language newspaper Staats-Zeitung, through which he met many prominent men, befriending Abraham Lincoln while reporting on the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He then covered the 1860 Republican convention, election campaign and eventually the Civil War (which landed him in the thick of the fighting on the eastern and western fronts) for a host of influential papers. After the war, determined to find a better-paying career, Villard was prepared when the opportunity arose to wrest control of the Oregon and California railroad on behalf of German bondholders who sought his help, and eventually became president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. His interest in electricity led to a friendship with Thomas Edison, and Villard helped form a conglomerate that later became General Electric. Drawn largely from Villard's own memoirs, de Borchgrave's biography of her great-grandfather unsurprisingly accentuates the positive aspects of his life. Her detailed, enthusiastic account of his action-packed days as a Civil War reporter is the high point, while she treats Villard's business career somewhat superficially. But readers will be compelled by the ability of her Zelig-like subject to draw people to him wherever he went. B&w photos. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A biography of a significant figure of the Gilded Age who is now generally ignored by historians of popular culture. In 1853, young Heinrich Hilgard borrowed the surname of an acquaintance and left Bavaria with more hubris than prospects. He arrived in America as Henry Villard, possessing not a dollar and not a word of English. Promptly acquiring proficiency in the language, he practiced the emerging profession of political reporter, traveling with candidate Stephen A. Douglas in his campaign against Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, the new journalist became a pioneering war correspondent, and much of the book details Villard's witness of battles from First Manassas to the Crater. After Appomattox, the young man went West (where he met a discomfited Horace Greeley) to report on the Pikes Peak gold rush. The evident need for western transportation brought Villard to the railroad business, thence to Wall Street. Eventually, he ran a newspaper, controlled the Northern Pacific Railroad, and helped Thomas Edison found General Electric. He was proud, frequently disdainful, and prejudiced. As his fortunes waxed and waned, he battled the most malevolent robber barons, yet his reputation remained relatively intact (muckraker Gustavus Meyers called him "a man of remarkable character and enterprise"). He knew the eminent personages of his time: Lincoln and Edison, Jay Gould and James Gordon Bennett, a squad of Union generals and William Lloyd Garrison (who became his esteemed father-in-law). Villard's is a prototypical American story, worthy of Horatio Alger. Yet, if he is remembered at all today, it's likely to be by New Yorkers who know the Madison Avenue palazzo he inhabited for justafew months, now straddled by the Helmsley Palace Hotel. De Borchgrave and her collaborator, a translator of German and Italian texts, rely heavily on their subject's memoirs, not always the most reliable of sources. In this case the resultant biography is quite credible and eminently creditable. A well-told story. (Illustrations)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385486620
Publisher:
Doubleday Publishing
Publication date:
03/20/2001
Edition description:
1st U.S. Edition
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
6.56(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave is the great-granddaughter of Henry Villard. A distinguished photographer, she has taken portraits of such notables as George Bush, Henry Kissinger, and Anwar Sadat. Her work has appeared on the covers of Newsweek and other international publications. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Arnaud de Borchgrave.

John Cullen graduated with a Ph.D., in English literature from the University of Texas. His translations from German and Italian include Christa Wolf's Medea, Adolf Holl's The Left Hand of God, and Susanna Tamaro's Follow Your Heart. He lives in upstate New York.

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