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Giants of the Gilded Age

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British historian David Cannadine brings this important and elusive figure to life in a book that is a model of the biographer's craft. Paul Mellon, Andrew Mellon's son, commissioned the book and gave Cannadine free access to the family's records. The result is an extensive, careful, fascinating study that will satisfy the scholar and appeal to a general audience as well. This is, surprisingly, the first full-length biography devoted to Mellon since his death and, given his seminal place in American history, is a welcome and much needed work.

Cannadine portrays Mellon fairly and sympathetically but, at the same time, leaves no doubt that this shy, intense, taciturn business genius was not a terribly likable human being.

Cannadine devotes a great deal of time to Mellon's personal life – his impetuous marriage to a much younger woman who did not love him, his insensitivity to her needs and feelings, her infidelities, a scandalous divorce, and the crushing impact it had on their children. The book conveys a great feel for Mellon's entire family and illustrates how the personality that served him so well in business undermined his personal life.

Andrew Carnegie was completely different. His was the prototypical rags-to-riches story. The son of a poor Scottish weaver, he went to work at age 12. He began working on the Pennsylvania Railroad and advanced rapidly, thanks to his intelligence, drive, and a gift for befriending his superiors. He later moved into iron and then steel to amass his fortune. He was small in stature, but his ebullient, outgoing personality and natural affection for others made him a human dynamo.

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