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November 19, 2009

News & Opinion: The First Tycoon: The Epic Winner of the NBA's Nonfiction Prize

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:34 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

T.J. Stiles won the National Book Award in Nonfiction last night for his book The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was published by one of my favorite publishers, Alfred A. Knopf, and edged out these other finalists: All of the finalists, in all categories, were interviewed for these awards, and The Believer's reviews editor, Meehan Crist, interviewed those in the nonfiction category. Here is a little taste of that interview:
MC: What questions drove you as you worked on The First Tycoon? In other words, what was it that you hoped to better understand by writing it? TJS: My interest in both the individual life and the historical context drove my work on Commodore Vanderbilt (as he was known). I wanted to understand the mind and personality of someone who clawed his way from the bottom to the top. I was also interested in the effects of that personality, and those ambitions, on his family. And I tried to grasp what Vanderbilt’s career could tell us about the making of the modern United States in the broadest sense. How did he help to shape the American economy—our ideals of equality and opportunity—our arguments over the role of government, and our economic imagination? I began to see his career as part of a great transformation: the abstraction of economic reality, with the rise of paper currency, corporations, securities, and financial markets. This invisible architecture of commerce—which we live in today—troubled many Americans, who were accustomed to a tangible economy of precious metals, physical property, and human beings.
Head on over to the National Book Foundation Website to see the finalists and winners in the other categories and read more of the interview(s).

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.