Non-Fiction

Article excerpt

Title: The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J.P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy

Author: Charles R. Morris

Data: Times Books, 400 pages, $28

Review by JOHN BURR

THE MEN, THE TYCOONS WHO CHANGED AMERICA

Andrew Carnegie, steel baron, John D. Rockefeller, the world's first oil sheik, Jay Gould, wheeler-dealer railroad and telegraph magnate, and J.P. Morgan, international banker and architect of the American supereconomy.

These names are embedded in the American psyche and evoke a range of emotions, from admiration and envy to distrust and vilification for alleged abuses of power and wealth.

To be sure, they were rare individuals, as Charles Morris writes in The Tycoons: "These . . . were walking whirlwinds: over some 25 years they forced the pace in all the critical underpinnings of the modern industrial state -- steel, oil, railroads, coal, telegraphs -- constantly driving to larger scales and lower costs, constantly attacking the comfortable settling points where normal businessmen paused to enjoy their success."

And never was there a more fertile field to cultivate for an ambitious business person than late 19th-century America. It brimmed with hard-working immigrant laborers, it was rich in raw materials, blessed with the world's best transportation and communication network, and was largely devoid of government regulation.

Morris shows how these factors combined with these four tycoons to help propel the United States into a world powerhouse in key industries. And none was more important than the meteoric rise of the American steel industry from 1880 through the early 1900's. …