Thursday, February 25, 2010

1890s: The Industrialists

The Gilded Age has always been a fascinating, if not romantic era to me with its larger-than-life capitalists, the shaping relationship with labor, the exponential growth of the economy, and the literal laying out of the infrastructure for the 20th Century. While focusing on the love-hate, and then mostly hate relationship of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, this book does a decent job of describing some of the cultural and personal tensions that emerged as America industrialized. There were certainly cases of Horatio Alger rags to riches, as Carnegie himself almost symbolized. But for the masses this was not the case, and the romantic era was actually covered in soot, dangerous, and filled with limited earning power and opportunities for the vast, vast majority of individuals. While Carnegie appeared to internally struggle with this fact while at the same time allowing his sheer power and money to keep his own labors at bay, the author paints a picture of a more ruthless Frick who had no such notions of tension. Whether accurate representations of their own mindsets, the overall story is a good representation of a pivotal time in this country's development and tensions that grew and evolved into major story lines throughout the next century and still exist in a form today.

Book review: 2/5 stars. As the author noted there are many in depth biographies of the two main characters already published so he tried to create a narrative around their relationship. The middle part of the brief book told the story of the Homestead strike and riot that he tried to use to illustrate a turning point in their relationship. While that story was probably the most interesting part of the book, his argument feels incomplete and it is essentially a story within a story.

(Read February 2010)