2009 National Book Award Finalist, Nonfiction: T. J. Stiles's 'The First Tycoon'

Historians in the News


With deep and imaginative research and graceful writing, T. J. Stiles’s The First Tycoon tells the extraordinary story of a brutally competitive man who was hard to love but irresistibly interesting as a truly pivotal historical figure. With few letters and no diaries, and with layers of legend to carve through, Stiles captures Cornelius Vanderbilt as a person and as a force who shaped the transportation revolution, all but invented unbridled American capitalism, and left his mark not only all over New York City but, for better or worse, all over our economic landscape.


Founder of a dynasty, builder of the original Grand Central, creator of an impossibly vast fortune, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt is an American icon. Humbly born on Staten Island during George Washington’s presidency, he rose from boatman to builder of the nation’s largest fleet of steamships to lord of a railroad empire. In The First Tycoon, T.J. Stiles offers the first complete, authoritative biography of this titan, and the first comprehensive account of the Commodore’s personal life.


T. J. Stiles is the author of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, winner of the Ambassador Book Award and the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, Smithsonian, and Salon.com, among other publications, and held the Gilder Lehrman Fellowship in American History at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He has taught nonfiction creative writing at Columbia University. He served as historical advisor and on-screen expert for "Jesse James" and "Grand Central," two films in the PBS documentary series American Experience. A native of Benton County, Minnesota, Stiles studied history at Carleton College and Columbia University, and resided in New York City for twenty years. He now lives in the Presidio of San Francisco with his wife and son.
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