NYS WRITERS INSTITUTE
Presents a lecture on The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (2009), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award
NYS Writers Institute, July 26, 2011
7:00 p.m. Lecture | Canfield Casino, Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, NY
T.J. Stiles is the author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for biography and 2009 National Book Award for nonfiction, and Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, winner of the Ambassador Book Award and the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship.
The First Tycoon offers a sweeping new account of the business career and personal life of the Commodore—as Vanderbilt was known—the first great corporate tycoon in American history and the founder of the Vanderbilt dynasty. The biography traces Vanderbilt’s rise from sailboat ferryman to steamboat entrepreneur, from master of transoceanic steamship lines to builder of a railroad empire. Stiles also describes Vanderbilt’s personal adventures in the Nicaraguan jungle, his epic campaigns on Wall Street, and the intrigue that divided his family.
The Washington Post reviewer of The First Tycoon called Stiles “a superb researcher” who “has unearthed quantities of new material and crafted them into the illuminating, authoritative portrait of Vanderbilt that has been missing for so long. . . .” The New York Times Book Review said “Stiles…writes with both the panache of a fine journalist and the analytical care of a seasoned scholar.” New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner called the biography “…a mighty—and mighty confident—work, one that moves with force and conviction and imperious wit. . . . I read eagerly and avidly. This is state-of-the-art biography, crisper and more piquant than a 600-page book has any right to be."
Stiles’s first biography, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War offers a new understanding of the legendary outlaw, placing him within the context of the bloody conflicts of the Civil War to reveal a much more complicated and significant figure. In a cover review the New York Times Book Review described the book as “so carefully researched, persuasive, and illuminating that it is likely to reshape permanently our understanding of its subject’s life and times.” The Washington Post Book World reviewer described the James biography as, “Elegantly rendered and compelling.... In Stiles’s rendering, this notorious rebel is less a Wild West bandit or frontier Robin Hood than a ‘foul-mouthed killer’ and a resurgent ex-Confederate ... who never accepted the peace of Appomattox.”
A 2011 fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Stiles has reviewed books and written for numerous publications including the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Smithsonian, and The Atlantic online. He taught nonfiction creative writing at Columbia University, and served as advisor and interview subject 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.
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