cover image DIAMOND JIM BRADY: Prince of the Gilded Age

DIAMOND JIM BRADY: Prince of the Gilded Age

H. Paul Jeffers, . . Wiley, $30 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-471-39102-9

The story of an industrial giant of the Gilded Age who looms tall over the colorless tycoons of today, H. Paul Jeffers's rollicking account of the life and times of "Diamond" Jim Brady is one of the most entertaining historical business narratives in recent memory. Born in 1856 into an Irish immigrant family who ran a saloon on the Lower East Side, Jim Brady had an early hunger for just about everything and the wherewithal to get it. At age 11, he went to work as a bellhop at the St. James Hotel, where the "genial, roly-poly, blue-eyed Irish youth" quickly ingratiated himself with the hotel's visitors and promptly spent his ample tips on food. A frequent guest, John Toucey, who worked for Cornelius Vanderbilt's railroad empire, hired Brady at age 15; soon Brady worked his way up to railroad equipment salesman, encountering precious few who could not be won over by his twinkle-eyed merriment, awesome generosity and gargantuan appetite for food. At a time when America was bursting at the seams with industrial expansion and newfound wealth, his expense reports were the stuff of legend; he celebrated each big sale by buying himself the best and gaudiest clothes and jewelry. But for all his larger-than-life boorishness, the man who emerges here is surprisingly cultured. For more than three decades, he never missed a Broadway opening; theater producers could tell where plays needed work simply by watching Jim's reactions in the front row. While Jeffers sometimes skimps on detailing how Jim amassed his fortunes—it isn't until late in the book that we get a good accounting of his sales practices—the story of this symbol of America's Gilded Age is filled with such gusto and vigor that even hardcore business readers will be swept away. (Sept.)