As I continue to read books for pleasure and professional endeavors, I find myself learning more and more. What I want to do is once I finish a book, to write a short review about some of my afterthoughts. Things I liked, aspects that the author could have been done differently and how I could possibly use this information in an interpretive setting.
In my History of American Business and Enterprise class, we are slated to read two books on American business history, and then submit a formal review. Earlier in the semester I read American Slavery by Peter Kolchin (review on here to come later). For my second book, I delved into Harold C. Livesay’s biography on Andrew Carnegie published in 1978. In this relatively short biography (228 pages), he attempts to take his audience through the life of the greatest industrialists America has seen to date.
Livesay did many things to merit a positive reaction from me. He starts from the very beginning of Carnegie’s life in Scotland and travels with him to America. The background exposition on his family became crucial to understanding Carnegie’s drive to succeed. From his early job as a bobbin boy to a operator on the telegraph lines and manager at the Pennsylvania Railroad were covered succinctly. The important jump for Carnegie to the railroads, and the skills he learned here transferred directly to his success as a steel producer. Another aspect Livesay well is he shows the various professional interpersonal relationships Carnegie develops through his life, and how they affect his career positively and negatively. Men such as Captian Bill and Henry Clay Frick would be monumental in creating Carnegie’s empire. These relationships and the effects on Carnegie are carried throughout the entire biography. Finally, the attention to Carnegie ‘s dealings with his labor and labor Unions made a powerful impact.
With this being said, there could have been somethings done differently. There are many statistics and financial numbers used in the biography. These are great, but often are hard to conceptualize. Some graphs or tables would have made the statistics more understandable and powerful. Also, some technical financial terms could have been defined, for the average reader to understand what was taking place. Bonds, securities and speculation are all terms that could have been defined to help the reader understand more clearly. Carnegie’s personal life after his younger childhood seemed to be dismissed. More attention to his personal life would have made him more human. There is only about two pages at the end mentioning his marriage and children.
In an interpretive setting, Carnegie and his story could be used for various interpretive goals. His story of an immigrant rising through the top through hard work and perseverance taps into the “American Dream” mentality (through hard, honesty and perseverance you can achieve your goals). To an audience of modern-day immigrants his story would be immensely powerful. Another possible way to use his story would be demonstrate the relationship of labor and industrial capitalists in the late 1800 early 1900’s. Carnegie really cared and worried about his work force (even if his companies actions did not represent this). A possible activity to do with children could involve giving one child power over a group of others, but that power was dependent on the larger group. An activity could be designed so that the overall group could fail or succeed based on each others actions with each other. Just some ideas off the top of my head. There are endless possibilities for interpretation here.
Overall, this short biography on Carnegie’s rise through big business is a great readable book for the average reader, gives the reader historical context, and finally an understanding of Carnegie’s brilliant capitalist and entrepreneurial psyche, aspect that still shape us today.