I recently bought a slew of used books, mostly classic fiction, at a good used bookstore in Denver. While passing by the “Business and Economics” section of the store, a yellow hardcover with “The Vanderbilts” in big letters on the spine caught my attention. I paused to take a look, as I very much enjoyed the dramatic story of Cornelius Vanderbilt told by historian Eric Daniels in his 2003 lecture Vanderbilt and American Free Enterprise. Although the book was a bit pricey, I was sold after reading just the first paragraph of the preface:
This is a history of the Vanderbilt family, with a record of their vicissitudes, and a chronicle of the method by which their wealth has been acquired. It is confidently put forth as a work which should fall into the hands of boys and young men–of all who aspire to become Captains of Industry or leaders of their fellows in the sharp and wholesome competitions of life.
No modern book would dare to start in such a fashion! Not only do those two sentences foreshadow a positive spin on the rapacious robber barons, the book is also clearly intended to inspire young people to such low money-grubbing!
As it turns out, the book is a reprint of The Vanderbilts and the Story of Their Fortune, originally published in 1886. I can’t wait to read it.