Business tycoon subject of lecture on MSUM campus

Historian and Pulitzer prize-winning author T. J. Stiles tells the story of Cornelius Vanderbilt in a lecture in the Science Lab Lecture Hall on the MSUM campus Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. The lecture is titled “One Man’s Empire in Every Man’s Republic: How Cornelius Vanderbilt Helped Create Big Business—and Start an Argument We’re Still Having Today.”

Vanderbilt, whose many legacies include the founding of Vanderbilt University, was the richest man in America in 1877, according to Stiles, author of the award-winning biography The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The book received the National Book Award in 2009 and the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2010.

The First Tycoon portrays Vanderbilt as a force who helped launch the transportation revolution, advance the Gold Rush, shape Manhattan, and invent American capitalism and modern corporations.  Vanderbilt created a steamboat and railway empire on the way to becoming the second wealthiest man in U.S. history.

The New York Times called Stiles’ book a “mighty… work, one that moves with force and conviction and imperious wit through Vanderbilt’s noisy life and times.”

In addition to The First Tycoon, Stiles is the author of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, which was a New York Times Notable Book.  Currently, Stiles is writing a biography of George Armstrong Custer. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic online, Smithsonian,, the Los Angeles Times, among other publications, and taught nonfiction creative writing at Columbia University.  He served as historical advisor and on-screen expert for “Jesse James” and “Grand Central,” two films in the PBS series The American Experience.

A native of Foley, Minn., Stiles studied history at Carleton College and Columbia University, and lived in New York City for 20 years.  He now lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.

Stiles’ talk is free and open to the public. Parking is available in MSUM lots adjacent to the Science Lab. For more information about the lecture, email Steve Hoffbeck at, or call 218.477.4041; or email Sean Taylor at or call him at 218.477.2814.