youThe ycoons, and their long history, aren’t just rich. The word comes from the Japanese and in the 1850s was used to show ignorant Americans and newcomers the source of real power in Japan, the Shogun, as opposed to the emperor, who was merely a figurehead. Thus the first English-language magnates were powerful Americans whose power was not immediately apparent: the merchants, the financiers, the political owners as well as the politicians and generals themselves.
My contribution to magnate literature stems from the days of Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great when it seemed clear to everyone where the greatest power lay in Rome. But these two military titans had a partner, often their senior partner, Marcus Licinius Crassus, a master of financing other politicians, of banking and bribery, of disrupting established systems, a user of practice money and balance power in very modern ways. Crassus was reserved, restless, ruthlessly focused on detail, somewhat insecure, more personally modest than might be expected, setting many of the standards for his successors in the centuries to come.
East first tycoon, as I call him, is best known today as the ruthless suppressor of Spartacus’ slave rebellion and crucifier of its survivors. But he would have been disappointed to be remembered as Laurence Olivier in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. Crushing a gang of runaway slaves was no big deal to any Roman. Secret funding was fine, but where was the legacy? Crassus wanted a true military conquest. In 53 B.C. C., he invaded the territories beyond the Euphrates called Parthia. A man so good at judging financial futures could not predict the fate of his own severed head, stuffed with molten gold and used as a prop in a production of the Greek tragedy, The Bacchae, near Baghdad. He set the stage for all these books, each based in different ways on power seekers who want it all.
1. The First Tycoon, The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by TJ Stiles
Cornelius Vanderbilt was the manipulator who pioneered American steamboats and railroads, pitted politicians against each other, disrupted monopolies, amassed great wealth, and promoted his own Central American foreign policy. Stiles’ 2009 biography, built like a big TV saga, begins with a court battle between his children after his death.
two. The Last F Scott Fitzgerald Mogul
This unfinished classic novel, published posthumously in 1941, showcases a filmmaker’s deep personal drive to see, concentrate and expand power, the rare mark of the tycoon. “These lights, this glow, these clusters of human hope, of wild desire, I will take these lights in my fingers. I will make them shiny, and whether they shine or not, it is on these fingers that they will succeed or fail.”
3. Those of us who are young by Preti Taneja
Between Crassus and Vanderbilt was King Lear. In his spectacular 2017 debut novel, Taneja takes on Shakespeare to show an Indian hotel magnate and political mediator pitting three daughters against each other. A tragic version of the divine status of the rich Indians.
Four. Abraham Lincoln by Godfrey Benson
After Major Perry and his gunboats opened Japan to American commerce in 1853, the word magnate meant both an administrator of power and an amasser of wealth. Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay, an important source for the Literary Liberal MP Godfrey Benson in 1916, liked to use her as his boss. “The Tycoon is doing very well,” he wrote in 1861, “directing this war, recruiting, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction.” Little read today, Benson had a lighter touch than his heavier successors.
5. Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack
Since Watergate, Bob Woodward has become the master of drama and detail in the White House. The Bushes, one of the most successful tycoon dynasties, have long been his subject, both when they were successful at home and when they failed in Iraq. George W. Bush, like Marcus Crassus, failed in a country he didn’t even try to understand.
6. Harold Robbins Tycoon
In his pioneering career as a novelist for the rich and powerful, Robbins only got better with age. The hero of his 23rd bestseller, supposedly based on CBS founder William Paley, is as concerned with sexual positions as he is with the media markets where he makes money from it.
7. The King of Content by Keach Hagey
Paley’s CBS is now part of the media empire founded by Sumner Redstone, who died in 2020. Not every mogul finds the right biographer, but Hagey, a Wall Street Journal reporter, provides a vivid and nuanced account of how a ” mad genius”. dominate so much being much less known than his rivals. Hagey deeply explores the father-daughter relationship so central to mogul watchers. Shari Redstone is on her way to need her own biographer of her as a tycoon.
8. Andrew Roberts’s Boss
Britain’s greatest biographer of great men leaves his usual battlefield home for Fleet Street, once home to the British press that his latest subject, Lord Northcliffe, did so much to create. The written press was for a century the theater where the magnates took the stage before the digital age.
9. A Rogue Tycoon by Tom Bower
This is a memorable investigative biography of a man not much remembered now, Tiny Rowland, not the greatest of mining and media moguls, but one who displayed many of their leading features. Rowland once owned and used the Observer and was a ruthless fighter, most notably against writers who crossed it. Bower made a name forensically investigating the financial and political ties of others of the same mold: Robert Maxwell, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Bernie Ecclestone, and Conrad Black.
10 Hugo by Arnold Bennett
Rowland and Al-Fayed, two of Bower’s most controversial moguls, spent the 1980s and 1990s fighting over ownership of Harrods department store. In a fictionalized account from 50 years earlier, novelist Arnold Bennett gave a bizarre description of the ruse between rivals, Hugo and Mr. Ravengar, for a store that operates as a banker, insurer, real estate developer, arms supplier, supplier of everything from furs to canes and cream fondant to a fiendish safe deposit box, the entirety of a tycoon’s dreams.