I just finished reading The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles, which was not a short read, but worth it. I was especially glad it was on my Kindle 2, versus a 736 page hardcover to lug during my commute into Grand Central Terminal every workday.
If you're a New Yorker, you need to read this book. It's amazing to read about the development of the rail roads and ferries in and around the city.
If you're a reader of business biographies, you need to read this book because Cornelius was the first tycoon. While it's hard to truly compare, he's probably the richest US citizen ever.
I clipped this quote from on Kindle 2 because it struck me as relevant to the Internet and housing bubbles we've just experienced. I guess we haven't learned much since Cornelius.
"I'll tell you what's the matter—people undertake to do about four times as much business as they can legitimately undertake.… There are a great many worthless railroads started in this country without any means to carry them through. Respectable banking houses in New York, so called, make themselves agents for sale of the bonds of the railroads in question and give a kind of moral guarantee of their genuineness. The bonds soon reach Europe and the markets of their commercial centres, from the character of the endorsers, are soon flooded with them.… When I have some money I buy railroad stock or something else, but I don't buy on credit. I pay for what I get. People who live too much on credit generally get brought up with a round turn in the long run. The Wall street averages ruin many a man there, and is like faro." - The First Tycoon (T.J. Stiles) - Highlight Loc. 12264-71