Mon May 18, 2009
The life and times of Cornelius Vanderbilt, larger-than-life creator of modern American capitalism.
By Rich Fisher
Tulsa, Oklahoma – On today's StudioTulsa, we chat with the author and historian T. J. Stiles. He's just published an outstanding biography called "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt" (Knopf). As we learn from the conversation Stiles has with our host Rich Fisher, the life of Vanderbilt is more than just another big-name, self-made-man account from the fantastic annals of Gilded Age America. In fact, the story of Vanderbilt's rise to fame and fortune is actually the story of how and why transportation was the single most important --- and the biggest, and boldest, and most lucrative --- technological advancement of the nineteenth century. All along, Vanderbilt was on the very crest of the wave that was transportation. Always the consummate "shrewd businessman," he was a strong and quite athletic individual who lived for competition --- and his financial empire can still be seen, arguably, as the prototype for the modern corporation. And finally, in "The First Tycoon," this gigantic figure has been rendered in a biography that is worthy of his vast, epochal experience. As critic Dwight Garner has noted in The New York Times: "In this whacking new biography . . . Stiles moves with force and conviction and imperious wit through Vanderbilt's noisy life and times. . . . [The book] is full of sharp, unexpected turns. . . . This is state-of-the-art biography, crisper and more piquant than a 600-page book has any right to be."