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Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by Edward J. Renehan Jr. (2009-04-14) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1856
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- ASIN : B01FGLFOJE
- Publisher : Basic Books (January 1, 1856)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Unfortunately, this book is often unpleasant to read because the author seems to relish bashing Cornelius Vanderbilt for many of his colorful but reprehensible personal attributes. Renehan really seems to go out of his way to gleefully remind the readers how Cornelius Vanderbilt was illiterate, how he displayed little command of the English language and how he seemed to ridicule and despise individuals who valued intellectual pursuits. To me, it almost seemed as if the author wanted to persuade the readers that despite Vanderbilt's immense business achievements, he cannot really be that great because he cannot spell properly.
This schadenfreude towards Vanderbilt is further exemplified in how the author really seems to take great pleasure in reporting Vanderbilt getting swindled by Jay Gould during his struggle for control of the Erie Railroad. The author unsympathetically describes Vanderbilt as having to "lick his wounds" as if he is a pathetic, scalded dog who got what he deserved and not a great businessmen who was sold fraudulent stock certificates (as implies the allegation against Jay Gould).
Not to leave any personal vice unexplored, this book also delves into Vanderbilt's unadmirable relationships with the many women in his life. In this book, you will learn about Vanderbilt's habitual womanizing with the most uncouth of women, his being cajoled by his girlfriends to bankroll the mass production of Marxist literature, his (eventually fatal) contraction of STDs and in the grand finale of all odious personal acts, his (presumably unjust) institutionalization of his wife allegedly to allow him to continue his illicit affairs. If the last part is even remotely true, then Vanderbilt has truly led a disgusting personal life.
To be clear, I certainly do not think that the author should deny that Cornelius Vanderbilt did not live an admirable personal life. However, the only reason why Cornelius Vanderbilt is in history books is because of his achievements as a great industrialist. The relentless descriptions of Vanderbilt's illiteracy, his philandering, his boorishness and his other negative attributes is at best overemphasized, if not downright annoying and immature. I did not get this book because I wanted to read about what a horrible personal Cornelius Vanderbilt was; I read this book because I wanted to get a better understanding of his remarkable achievements as an industrialist.
In summary, a good book on Cornelius Vanderbilt today is a scarce reason indeed. For this reason, I definitely recommend this book until something better comes along as it is a very good source of information on Vanderbilt's accomplishments as a businessman. However, be warned of the constant bashing of Vanderbilt for his hideous personal character contained within, as it really is irritating.
Top reviews from other countries
Edward J Renehan Jr's book is a well researched work that chronicles the life and business achievements of one of the greatest titans of the American commercial scene. Making his initial fortune in building ferry and cargo routes, he moved into steamboats and railroads amassing a massive fortune in the process and also was influential in establishing New York as the financial center of the United States. He was very single-minded in his quest for commercial dominance, and his reaction to legal threats from those he sought to ride roughshod was along the lines "What do I care about the law? Ain't I got the power?" and most times he had.
His success was achieved in a ruthless and at times somewhat uncaring manner, as is shown by his comment to one particular rival, "You have undertaken to cheat me. I won't sue you, for the law is too slow. I'll ruin you." He was a hard-drinking egotist with an all-consuming predilection for lechery having countless affairs (his latter years were marred by advanced syphilis), and was very harsh and authoritarian with his many children, most of whom he disinherited.
On dying in 1877 he left a $105 million fortune that at today's value would dwarf the worth of Bill Gates. Like some other hyper-successful businessmen of that time and others, in his latter years, perhaps to settle his conscience he became a noted philanthropist.
On the surface he was not a particularly likeable character, but his business success was phenomenal and Mr Renehan's book examines both sides of the coin and sheds new light on his personality, family and wealth creation.
A masterful, interesting and eye-opening book into one of the architects of modern America.