The 2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners – Biography or Autobiography

For a distinguished and appropriately documented biography or autobiography by an American author, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
Awarded to “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt,” by T.J Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf), a penetrating portrait of a complex, self-made titan who revolutionized transportation, amassed vast wealth and shaped the economic world in ways still felt today.


Also nominated as finalists in this category were “Cheever: A Life,” by Blake Bailey (Alfred A. Knopf), an absorbing, impeccably researched exploration of the famed writer John Cheever, illuminating his greatness as well as flaws, told in a compelling voice worthy of the subject; and “Woodrow Wilson: A Biography,” by John Milton Cooper Jr. (Alfred A. Knopf), a magisterial work that corrects erroneous perceptions and casts important new light on one of the most pivotal and enigmatic American presidents, fully placing the man in the context of his times.

The First Tycoon

The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

By: T.J. Stiles

A gripping, groundbreaking biography of the combative man whose genius and force of will creaed modern capitalism.

Founder of a dynasty, builder of the original Grand Central, creator of an impossibly vast fortune, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt is an American icon. Humbly born on Staten Island during George Washington’s presidency, he rose from boatman to builder of the nation’s largest fleet of steamships to lord of a railroad empire. Lincoln consulted him on steamship strategy during the Civil War; Jay Gould was first his uneasy ally and then sworn enemy; and Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, was his spiritual counselor. We see Vanderbilt help to launch the transportation revolution, propel the Gold Rush, reshape Manhattan, and invent the modern corporation—in fact, as T. J. Stiles elegantly argues, Vanderbilt did more than perhaps any other individual to create the economic world we live in today.

In The First Tycoon, Stiles offers the first complete, authoritative biography of this titan, and the first comprehensive account of the Commodore’s personal life. It is a sweeping, fast-moving epic, and a complex portrait of the great man. Vanderbilt, Stiles shows, embraced the philosophy of the Jacksonian Democrats and withstood attacks by his conservative enemies for being too competitive. He was a visionary who pioneered business models. He was an unschooled fistfighter who came to command the respect of New York’s social elite. And he was a father who struggled with a gambling-addicted son, a husband who was loving yet abusive, and, finally, an old man who was obsessed with contacting the dead.

The First Tycoon is the exhilarating story of a man and a nation maturing together: the powerful account of a man whose life was as epic and complex as American history itself.

T.J. Stiles has held the Gilder Lehrman Fellowship in American History at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, taught at Columbia University, and served as adviser for the PBS series The American Experience. His first book, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, won the Ambassador Book Award and the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship, and was a New York Times Notable Book. The First Tycoon won the National Book Award in 2009. He has written for The New York Times Book Review,, Smithsonian, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in San Francisco.
David M. Oshinsky , Jack S. Blanton Chair in History, University of Texas, Austin, and Jacob K. Javits Visiting Professor, New York University (chair) – (past Prize winner)
Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Kate Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography, Dartmouth College
John Matteson, professor of English, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY – (past Prize winner)

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