Andrew Carnegie

In the pantheon of the industrial giants who dominated late-nineteenth-century American capitalism, Andrew Carnegie has consistently stood out as the most fascinating and enigmatic character. Celebrated as the creator of the modern steel industry, he earned equal renown for the disbursement of his vast fortune to numerous philanthropic causes. As opposed to the cold, austere image of a Rockefeller, Carnegie seemed to radiate genuine warmth and compassion. Nasaw, a prizewinning historian and biographer, has attempted to plumb the seemingly contradictory aspects of Carnegie’s personality in a comprehensive and often engrossing biography. Nasaw has opted for a straight chronological narrative, beginning with Carnegie’s youth in a struggling family of weavers in Dunfermline, Scotland. He proceeds to describe his inexorable rise to prominence after his emigration from Scotland to Pennsylvania, while seamlessly integrating Carnegie’s personal story with the broader account of the explosion of big business. At times, Nasaw’s effort to provide detail after detail bogs down the narrative. Still, the story is generally compelling. Ultimately, Nasaw cannot fully explain the man’s contradictions, but this is a worthy attempt and an important examination of the man and his times. — Jay Freeman, Copyright © American Library Association

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