Andrew Carnegie

David Nasaw, Author . Penguin Press $35 (878p) ISBN 978-1-59420-104-2

Without education or contacts, Andrew Carnegie rose from poverty to become the richest person in the world, mostly while working three hours a day in comfortable surroundings far from his factories. Having decided while relatively young and poor to give all his money away in his lifetime, he embraced philanthropy with the same energy and creativity as he did making money. He wrote influential books, became a significant political force and spent his last years working tirelessly for world peace. Yet he was a true robber baron, a ruthless and hypocritical strikebreaker who made much of his money through practices since outlawed. Nasaw, who won a Bancroft Prize for The Chief , a bio of William Randolph Hearst, has uncovered important new material among Carnegie's papers and letters written to others, but comes no closer than previous biographers to explaining how such an ordinary-seeming person could achieve so much and embody such contradictions. He concentrates on the private man, including Carnegie's relations with his mother and wife, and his extensive self-education through reading and correspondence. His business and political dealings are described mostly indirectly, through letters to managers, congressional testimony and articles. Nasaw makes some sense out of the contradictions, but describes a man who seems too small to play the public role. While Peter Krass's Carnegie and Carnegie's own autobiography are more exciting to read and do more to explain his place in history, they also leave the man an enigma. 32 pages of photos. (Oct. 24)

Reviewed on: 08/07/2006
Release date: 11/01/2006
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