Andrew Carnegie, Paperback
4 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Celebrated historian David Nasaw, whom "The New York Times Book Review" has called 'a meticulous researcher and a cool analyst,' brings new life to the story of one of America's most famous and successful businessmen and philanthropists - in what will prove to be the biography of the season.

Born of modest origins in Scotland in 1835, Andrew Carnegie is best known as the founder of Carnegie Steel.

His rags to riches story has never been told as dramatically and vividly as in Nasaw's new biography.

Carnegie, the son of an impoverished linen weaver, moved to Pittsburgh at the age of thirteen.

The embodiment of the American dream, he pulled himself up from bobbin boy in a cotton factory to become the richest man in the world.

He spent the rest of his life giving away the fortune he had accumulated and crusading for international peace.

For all that he accomplished and came to represent to the American public - a wildly successful businessman and capitalist, a self-educated writer, peace activist, philanthropist, man of letters, lover of culture, and unabashed enthusiast for American democracy and capitalism - Carnegie has remained, to this day, an enigma. Nasaw explains how Carnegie made his early fortune and what prompted him to give it all away, how he was drawn into the campaign first against American involvement in the Spanish-American War and then for international peace, and how he used his friendships with presidents and prime ministers to try to pull the world back from the brink of disaster.

With a trove of new material - unpublished chapters of Carnegie's Autobiography; personal letters between Carnegie and his future wife, Louise, and other family members; his prenuptial agreement; diaries of family and close friends; his applications for citizenship; his extensive correspondence with Henry Clay Frick; and, dozens of private letters to and from presidents Grant, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, and British prime ministers Gladstone and Balfour, as well as friends Herbert Spencer, Matthew Arnold, and Mark Twain - Nasaw brilliantly plumbs the core of this fascinating and complex man, deftly placing his life in cultural and political context as only a master storyteller can.




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How to describe Andrew Carnegie? Certainly he would have to be one of the most fortunate individuals to have ever been born. Son of a hardscrabble weaver from a small hamlet near Edinburgh, Scotland, Carnegie and family immigrated to Pennsylvania whan he was a young man. Perhaps never before in history, has a particular man, with certain skills, found himself at the right place, at the right time and under the right circumstances as did Andrew Carnegie in 19th century western Pennsylvania. Despite having no formal education, Carnegie was certainly a very intelligent man. He educated himself over the years to the extent that he was considered a very philosophical author and sought after speaker on many of the issues of the day. He hitched his wagon to the right horse when he became assistant to an up and comer in the Pennsylvania Railroad. From an early age, Carnegie discovered the beauty of dividends and compound interest, money earned not by virtue of labor, but solely by virtue of having money. Due in large part to his connections, he was able to parley inside information into increasingly lucrative investments, to the point that he was soon able to turn over daily operation of his several businesses to very able lieutenants while he enjoyed the good life. These lieutenants, assisted by a series of unique events and developing technologies, made Carnegie the richest man in the world. While it may sound as if Carnegie was merely an observer and accumulator, he certainly deserves much credit for his success. He was an early pioneer in the concept of cost accounting and through a ruthless system of unit cost reduction, both in the areas of vertical integration and labor cost, was able to successfully grow his business and survive numerous economic downturns which bankrupted his competitors. Many decry Carnegie's business practices, most notably in the areas of labor/manangement relations and anti-competitive practices. However, this demonstrates a very common failing in many commentators; holding historical personages to current standards. The same people that condemn Carnegie's labor practices, denigrate George Washington for owning slaves, or Harry Truman for making racist comments. Each of these, though immoral by current standards, were men of their times. Owners of manufacturing entities were expected to battle with labor. Labor, in the mid-late 19th century was heavily connected with the burgeoning socialist movement which was looked upon with disfavor by much of society. In fact, it is no coincidence that those of Carnegie's competitors whose labor forces became organized, were largely those that failed in the repeated economic panics of the day. Carnegie succeeded, and grew, as a result of reinvesting profits and maintaining low unit cost. Ironically, though his Homestead steel works became the symbol for labor/management violence, he considered himself one of the most enlightened managers of the day. Carnegie is viewed, with Rockefeller, Morgan and Vanderbilt in the class of "Robber Barons" which sprang up during the era, however, Carnegie is vastly different than each of these individuals. While many of his contemporaries benefited and suceeded largely due to watered stock and market manipulation, he was very proud, and quick to point out that he never operated a corporation and never sold a share of stock. He was definitely NOT a monopolist (U.S. Steel was formed as a result of his sale of Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan and investors). He was simply a supreme capitalist and the first of his type and scale. He is condemned by others for taking advantage of political and business connections not available to others. Again, that was common practice in the era. Many things that he did, while legislated against now, were perfectly legal and accepted business practices of the times. All that having been said, I get the impression, especially in the later parts of the book, that Carnegie could be an insufferable prig. I imagine it becomes easy to view ones self as omnipotent and all wise, when everything one touches turns to gold and one is constantly praised for his good works. However, it is telling that he constantly bragged of being successful while only working 2-3 hours/day, lecturing his many employees to enjoy leisure time, while at the same time instituting a 12 hour/7 day a week work schedule. It seems almost unbelievable that he was unaware of the hypocrisy of some of actions, but after reading the book, I actually believe that he was. By letting his managers do the dirty work of making his money, he was able to "keep his hands clean" and disavow any unpleasantness that might result. Though hopelessly naive, it is difficult to condemn a man who literally pioneered the concept of philanthropy and spent his last decade in a never flagging crusade for world peace. He tirelessly advocated the formation of a League of Nations/United Nations style world arbitration body, with military enforcement powers, well before any of his contemporaries. While he would doubtless be overjoyed to learn of the existence of the current United Nations, he would nonetheless be less than pleased with its corruption and lack of effective authority. All in all, a rather good treatment, not just of Carnegie, but of the period itself and many of the historical figures of the era. At times, the book dragged and became tiresome, but not exceedingly so. I would highly recommend the book for anyone interested not just in Andrew Carnegie but in late 19th century American and British history.

Review by

Nasaw took on a difficult personality for a book. He struggles to maintain the humanity of Carnagie in the face of numerous displays of indifference towards others' suffering. Nasaw's subject gets away from him. This is the story of the American hyper-rich and price others paid on their behalf. It is also the tale of the mess that the good-intentioned rich can make. Many of our current foreign policies have their source in Carnegie's vision of world peace. An important, but difficult read.

Review by

A well written, well researched book spanning Andrew Carnegie's entire life. Had read about the Homestead problem and about his gift of public libraries, but book went far beyond those two areas. Although long, the book covered apparently all facets of his life. Carnegie claimed to be a friend of labor and pro -union, but his actions often seemed contradictory. A multifaceted individual. - one has to wonder how much was an act and how much was the real person that you saw. Definitely worthy of the accolades this book received.

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