Mellon: An American Life Info

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A landmark work from one of the preeminent historians of our
time: the first published biography of Andrew W. Mellon, the American
colossus who bestrode the worlds of industry, government, and
philanthropy, leaving his transformative stamp on each.

Following a boyhood in nineteenth-century Pittsburgh, during
which he learned from his Scotch-Irish immigrant father the lessons of
self-sufficiency and accumulation of wealth, Andrew Mellon overcame
painful shyness to become one of America’s greatest financiers.
Across an unusually diverse range of enterprises, from banking to oil to
aluminum manufacture, he would build a legendary personal fortune,
tracking America’s course to global economic supremacy. Personal
happiness, however, eluded him: his loveless marriage at forty-five to a
British girl less than half his age ended in a scandalous divorce, and
for all his best efforts, he would remain a stranger to his children. He
had been bred to do one thing, and that he did with brilliant and
innovative entrepreneurship. The Mellon way was to hold companies
closely, including such iconic enterprises as Alcoa and Gulf Oil.
Collecting art, a pursuit inspired by his close friend Henry Clay Frick,
would become his only nonprofessional gratification. And by the end of
his life, Mellon’s “pictures” would constitute one of
the world’s foremost private collections.
Mellon’s
wealth and name allowed him to dominate Pennsylvania politics, and late
in life he was invited to Washington. As treasury secretary under
presidents Harding, Coolidge, and finally Hoover, he made the federal
government run like a business—prefiguring the public official as
CEO. But this man of straightforward conservative politics was no
politician. He would be hailed as the architect of the Roaring Twenties,
but, staying too long, would be blamed for the Great Depression,
eventually to find himself a broken idol. The New Deal overthrew Andrew
Mellon’s every fiscal assumption, starting with the imperative of
balanced budgets. Indeed, he would become the emblem—and the
scapegoat—for the Republican conviction and policy that the role
of government is to help business create national wealth and jobs. At
the age of seventy-nine, the former treasury secretary suffered the
ultimate humiliation: prosecution by FDR’s government on charges
of tax evasion. In the end Mellon would be exonerated, as he always
trusted he would be, and throughout the trial, which lasted more than a
year, he never abandoned what had become his last dream: to make a great
gift to the American people. The National Gallery of Art remains his
most tangible legacy, although he did not live to see its
completion.
The issues Andrew W. Mellon
confronted—concerning government, business, influence, the
individual and the public good—remain at the center of our
national discourse to this day. Indeed, the positions he steadfastly
held reemerged relatively intact with the Reagan revolution, having lain
dormant since the New Deal. David Cannadine’s magisterial
biography brings to life a towering, controversial figure, casting new
light on our history and the evolution of our public values.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Mellon: An American Life:

5

Mar 11, 2017

Andrew Mellon was such a stereotypically dour, humorless, emotionally stunted banker that hes probably the reason bankers have that reputation. This personality can be blamed on his Scotch-Irish heritage and his father, who was a similar personality. Life was about hard work and accumulating wealth. There wasnt room for cultivating a personal life or anything else, so his marriage was a shambles, and his two children were a mess. His son Paul seemed to have found some sort of peace in later life Andrew Mellon was such a stereotypically dour, humorless, emotionally stunted banker that he’s probably the reason bankers have that reputation. This personality can be blamed on his Scotch-Irish heritage and his father, who was a similar personality. Life was about hard work and accumulating wealth. There wasn’t room for cultivating a personal life or anything else, so his marriage was a shambles, and his two children were a mess. His son Paul seemed to have found some sort of peace in later life after a lifetime in therapy, but his daughter Alisa was a life-long hypochondriac, abandoned by everyone, including her husband (David Bruce), by the time of her death.

Andrew was not a self-made man, but his father was; and Andrew turned out to be the most capable of his brothers in building his father’s wealth into an impressive fortune. The Mellon brothers were financiers and bankers. The most famous companies associated with them are Alcoa and Gulf Oil. Half of this book is devoted to Andrew’s life building his fortune, and the other half is devoted to his life as Secretary of the Treasury (the greatest since Alexander Hamilton, it was often said), under three Presidents--Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. He presided over one of the greatest economic booms of our history in the 1920s, and he was still there when the Depression took hold. The Depression was not his fault, but his life-long commitment to a laissez-fair philosophy when it came to the economy meant that he was not supportive of any governmental involvement to fix it, and it gave him the reputation of being oblivious to the country’s suffering. In his world, a capitalist free-enterprise economy suffered natural ups and downs, and this was just one of them that would eventually work its way out. The fact that millions of people would suffer while that happened was one of the unfortunate consequences; their jobs would eventually return.

After a lifetime of praise and veneration, he found himself in the center of the bull's-eye in his late 70s and early 80s after FDR was elected. Mellon hated the New Deal, and FDR hated him and his ilk. Mellon spent the last years of his life defending himself against FDR’s personal vendetta, charges of fraud and a lengthy tax evasion trial, from which he was eventually completely exonerated, but not until after his death. Both of his parents lived into their 90s, as did Paul. The enormous stress at the end of his life undoubtedly hastened his death.

Mellon’s father’s idea of philanthropy was to give his fortune to his sons (he hated the idea of charity), so Andrew had no foundation to build on. He did start making contributions to the University of Pittsburg later in life, but his primary focus was a National Gallery of Art. He had started to collect “pictures” after his wife betrayed him, and the only female solace he found was in the paintings of aristocratic British women that he began to collect and hang on his walls. By the end of his life he had one of the greatest collections of art of his age, and he was determined to give it to the American people. Ironically, it was FDR who had to accept the gift on Mellon’s terms in the middle of his tax trial (there is absolutely no evidence it was meant as a bribe, since he had been working on the plan for decades, and he was near the end of his life, with this task being his final one). To FDR’s credit, he did not refuse it.

This aspect of Mellon’s life, his love of art and the desire to share it with his country (the NGofA is free), humanizes him in a way that no other aspect of his life does. He was cold, shy and inarticulate, but he was moved by art.

He was also a decent, loyal, honorable man, who was deceived and betrayed by his disloyal and dishonorable wife. He was a brilliant banker, a creative genius for business with an eye for opportunity. Many thousands were gainfully employed in the companies he created. He was an outstanding Sec. of Treas., who understood that what’s good for business is good for America. The Depression wasn’t his fault, but he believed it was an ill that must be endured in a free-enterprise economy subject to ups and downs, and that the government should not try to cure it. He believed in small government, fiscal responsibility, and the universal benefits of trickle-down economics. It had worked for him for eighty years, and he saw no reason why it shouldn’t continue to work. Consequently, while he was a transformative figure in his time, he failed to adapt. By the beginning of the 1930s, the Andrew Mellon philosophy was dead. ...more
2

Sep 02, 2013

Cannadine has a difficult task - to write an entertaining yet accurate biography of a taciturn, boring man. Andrew Mellon was an immensely successful banker and businessman who subsequently became Treasury Secretary for eleven years and Ambassador to Great Britain for a year. Yet he seemed devoid of personality: cold, oblivious to the economic hardships and challenges faced by most Americans, calculating, disingenuous (as when repeatedly disavowed his continued involvement in his numerous Cannadine has a difficult task - to write an entertaining yet accurate biography of a taciturn, boring man. Andrew Mellon was an immensely successful banker and businessman who subsequently became Treasury Secretary for eleven years and Ambassador to Great Britain for a year. Yet he seemed devoid of personality: cold, oblivious to the economic hardships and challenges faced by most Americans, calculating, disingenuous (as when repeatedly disavowed his continued involvement in his numerous businesses while was Treasury Secretary, a person devoid of being able to establish close, intimate relationships. His one marriage was a disaster: he married a woman twenty-three years younger than her, whom he barely knew, and who lived in a different country. His relations with his children were distant at best, acrimonious at worst - especially with his son Paul. He seemed to favor the daughter over the son. Not monetarily, but in how he relentlessly pressured Paul to go into banking and business, yet he financed his daughter Ailsa's transformation into a snobbish, greedy rich girl. He had no close personal friends. He simply lacked the capacity to show love towards others in a personal fashion.

He did leave a lasting mark on the country by establishing the National Gallery of Art, and - after his death - the National Portrait Gallery. He also, as he aged, contributed more and more of his money to philanthropic and charitable causes. He preferred to stay out of the limelight - both as a form of modesty but also as a way to keep people from learning of his business tactics. His tenure as Treasury Secretary was highly controversial as he did nothing to try to right the ship after the stock market crash in 1929 and the ensuing run on banks. The laissez-faire style that had worked for most of his life no longer was an adequate means to fix the nation's badly damaged economy. Mellon somehow could not see this - probably because he was born into relative affluence and was set up nicely by his father, Thomas Mellon, to succeed.

Cannadine seems to have somewhat of a political agenda as, in the last few chapters of the book, he takes a dim view of FDR and the New Deal. It does seem like his administration unfairly went after Mellon for supposed income tax evasions - that should not have occurred as Mellon did pay his taxes and was proud of doing so. But Cannadine seems to paint FDR as an evil tyrant out for revenge against Mellon and other financial titans. I am not sure that is wholly accurate. FDR did have an intense distrust of wealthy men like Mellon, but I really do not think that going after Mellon was a high priority item for him personally. Mellon's economic policies proved wholly inadequate for coping with the Great Depression, and his subsequent inaction did not help. FDR was elected in part as a repudiation of those policies. Also, the first 100 pages of the book is basically a biography about Mellon's dad, Thomas. While I absolutely understand how dominant of a force in Andrew's life Thomas was, I think that we could have been subjected to less details about Thomas and still have been able to glean a solid understanding of the environment in which Andrew grew up. Ultimately, I finished the book feeling ambivalent about both its subject and its author. ...more
0

Dec 11, 2010

Andrew Mellon was the original supply-sider. He did wonderful things for our country, but toward the end of his life was hounded by FDR.
4

Oct 09, 2011

This was an amazing book - extremely well written, detailed, and researched. A great view of American history, politics, art and the Mellon family. The events of today (polarized political camps) is also demonstrated during the 20's and 30's of the last century. This is not a fast read.
2

Jun 27, 2007

This is based upon the audio download from [http://www.Audible.com]

Narrated by: John H. Mayer

L...O...N...G...everyone's life story is interesting but this was just so long that I could not wait for it to end.
3

Mar 10, 2012

Dealt more with the personal life of Andrew Mellon (and less about the details of how he became one of the richest men in America). Thought there was also a too little attention given to how Mellon go involved in politics and would come to serve as Secretary of the Treasury for 3 different Presidents.
4

Nov 07, 2008

For me, Mellon was a good book not only because it was well researched and written but because I knew so little about Andrew Mellon. I always associated him with banking and had no idea he was the source of funding of major companies like Alcoa and Gulf oil. I also didn't know he was the force behind the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.. I have been to the Gallery on several occasions and never knew it was his art collection that was the initial source of the exhibits. Very interesting For me, Mellon was a good book not only because it was well researched and written but because I knew so little about Andrew Mellon. I always associated him with banking and had no idea he was the source of funding of major companies like Alcoa and Gulf oil. I also didn't know he was the force behind the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.. I have been to the Gallery on several occasions and never knew it was his art collection that was the initial source of the exhibits. Very interesting and enlightening. ...more
5

Jan 22, 2016

Andrew Mellon kept popping up as a peripheral character in my readings about several major events in American history, so I decided to look a little further into his life and career. When it comes to biographies, I try to find the most objective account available. In the case of Andrew Mellon, I found the options very limited, as he doesn't seem to be a popular biographical subject and books about him are few compared to other historic figures of his era. Fortunately, this author presented a Andrew Mellon kept popping up as a peripheral character in my readings about several major events in American history, so I decided to look a little further into his life and career. When it comes to biographies, I try to find the most objective account available. In the case of Andrew Mellon, I found the options very limited, as he doesn't seem to be a popular biographical subject and books about him are few compared to other historic figures of his era. Fortunately, this author presented a fair and well-researched account of both Mellon's personal life and career, in my view. He goes into great detail regarding Mellon's strained relationships with his family and his efforts to establish the National Gallery of Art, in addition to his service in the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations.

I recommend this book as a fair and thorough account of a somewhat controversial but under-appreciated figure in our nation's history. ...more
4

Jun 17, 2009

I saw the movie Duplicity last night and it reminded me of some espionage in the art world. The book Mellon: An American Life by Professor David Cannadine conveys how art dealer Joseph Duveen bribed household help to find out what Andrew Mellon, banker, Treasury Secretary and benefactor of the National Gallery thought about recent or future art acquisitions. In addition, Duveen gained access to Mellons trash to garner more details.

Mellon had been quite correct in surmising earlier that Duveen I saw the movie Duplicity last night and it reminded me of some espionage in the art world. The book Mellon: An American Life by Professor David Cannadine conveys how art dealer Joseph Duveen bribed household help to find out what Andrew Mellon, banker, Treasury Secretary and benefactor of the National Gallery thought about recent or future art acquisitions. In addition, Duveen gained access to Mellon’s trash to garner more details.

“Mellon had been quite correct in surmising earlier that Duveen had bribed members of his household: Duveen continued to do so through the Washington years." MORE: http://www.urbanartantiques.com/2009/...


I love biographies and this one is especially good at telling the story of an art collector and the founding of the National Gallery in Washington D.C. And hey, the nation's gain was Pittsburgh's loss http://www.urbanartantiques.com/2009/... ...more
3

May 02, 2016

Cannadine tackled a massive project, and his exhaustive research and commitment to get beyond popular opinion and myth and examine the facts is impressive. Moreover, with a man like Mellon, there are so many different threads (his family, his government career, his business empire, the National Gallery of Art) and Cannadine seemed to balance all of them to keep things interesting and moving along. However, Cannadine seemed to editorialize about his views of Mellons life, American politics, Cannadine tackled a massive project, and his exhaustive research and commitment to get beyond popular opinion and myth and examine the facts is impressive. Moreover, with a man like Mellon, there are so many different threads (his family, his government career, his business empire, the National Gallery of Art) and Cannadine seemed to balance all of them to keep things interesting and moving along. However, Cannadine seemed to editorialize about his views of Mellon’s life, American politics, business ethics, and numerous other things where I really didn’t care about the opinions of the author. Obviously there is some element of judgement in biography, but Cannadine didn’t seem to be able to hold his tongue and stick to the task at hand. Coupled with the over-long history of Mellon’s father in the beginning, the annoying use of Mellon’s father’s quotes at the beginning of every chapter, and the weird jumping around in chronology that sometimes happened, I’d be hesitant to recommend this biography if there was another one of Andrew Mellon. There isn’t, and Cannadine knows that, which makes me wonder if that’s why writerly discipline was lacking. ...more
4

Aug 14, 2015

Any biographer to take on the life of Andrew Mellon would face a challenge. His accomplishments in public life, aside from his launch of the National Gallery of Art, lay in the arid realm of balance sheets; his private life, aside from his disastrous marriage, was strikingly bare. But David Cannadine makes Mellon: An American Life more engaging than a biography of a taciturn financier has any right to be. He partly accomplishes this feat by focusing on the more compelling figures of Mellon's Any biographer to take on the life of Andrew Mellon would face a challenge. His accomplishments in public life, aside from his launch of the National Gallery of Art, lay in the arid realm of balance sheets; his private life, aside from his disastrous marriage, was strikingly bare. But David Cannadine makes Mellon: An American Life more engaging than a biography of a taciturn financier has any right to be. He partly accomplishes this feat by focusing on the more compelling figures of Mellon's life, such as his father Thomas "the Judge" and his art dealer Joseph Duveen. More importantly, Cannadine uses his subject to characterize broader historical trends and themes. The reader gains an understanding not just of Mellon's Pittsburgh business ventures but of Pittsburgh's role as nineteenth-century industrial powerhouse. Similarly, the account of Mellon's tenure at Treasury explains the economic history of the 1920s, and the tale of his late-in-life feud with FDR illuminates the political and cultural changes ushered in by the New Deal. By evaluating the subject so thoroughly and using his life to explore the places and times he inhabited, this book attains the level of great biography. ...more
3

Jan 06, 2015

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A well-researched biography that begins with the migration from Scotland to Ireland, then western Pennsylvania, of the Mellons two generations before Andrew. Trusting his own instincts, Andrew's father moved away from the traditions of his peers and started building a business network, which Andrew was subsequently born into. Inheriting his father's business acumen, Andrew and was able to not only maintain the legacy, but increase it's worth exponentially, ultimately becoming one of the A well-researched biography that begins with the migration from Scotland to Ireland, then western Pennsylvania, of the Mellons two generations before Andrew. Trusting his own instincts, Andrew's father moved away from the traditions of his peers and started building a business network, which Andrew was subsequently born into. Inheriting his father's business acumen, Andrew and was able to not only maintain the legacy, but increase it's worth exponentially, ultimately becoming one of the wealthiest in America during a period when the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" was immense and growing wider.

Andrew's world seems rather narrow in scope as he disregards aspects of life other than "making money" until his later years. A failed marriage and distant relationships with son Paul and daughter Ailsa, were to become byproducts of these limitations, but seem to have opened his eyes to broader horizons, possibly too late.

Despite the wealth Andrew Mellon amassed over his lengthy life, it is difficult to not feel sympathy for the man and pity for the fate of his offspring.

The writing ability of the author is immediately evident in how he masterfully tailors each sentence to convey his point and in being from "the other side of the pond", provides an objective view of the subject matter. ...more
4

Apr 26, 2012

"Mellon: An American Life" by David Cannadine is about the life of Andrew W. Mellon, who was the grandson of a Scots-Irishman who rose to be one of the richest men in America (behind the likes of Rockefeller and Carnegie) and one of the longest serving Treasury Secretaries in the US.

The book is a fair and balanced description of his life. It covers everything from his young life to his development of Mellon Bank, the United Trust Company, Gulf Petroleum and Alcoa and his experiences as Treasury "Mellon: An American Life" by David Cannadine is about the life of Andrew W. Mellon, who was the grandson of a Scots-Irishman who rose to be one of the richest men in America (behind the likes of Rockefeller and Carnegie) and one of the longest serving Treasury Secretaries in the US.

The book is a fair and balanced description of his life. It covers everything from his young life to his development of Mellon Bank, the United Trust Company, Gulf Petroleum and Alcoa and his experiences as Treasury Secretary.

The book does less well at explain how he managed to be Treasury Secretary for so long (almost 12yrs). He regarded the country as a business. If you lost your job, his attitude was to "suck it up and pull yourself up by your boot straps," an attitude which was unlikely to endear him to politicians.

In addition, while his shyness, reserve and inflexibility of expectations might have worked when he was his own boss, I struggle to se how they would work when working with a separate but equal arm of government, who need to be stroked fair deal to ge things done. Mellon struggled and yet was kept in place for a good while, which is something that I don't understand (and isn't very well explained in the book -I doubt it even dawned on the author).

Given that this was the first biography of Mellon, I'd say that it was a pretty good book, but don't expect it to answer all the "whys?" you might have about Mellon ...more
5

Jan 13, 2015

★ ★ ★ ★★
Mellon An American Life by David Cannadine

biography of Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937)

Sir David Cannadine joined Princeton in the fall of 2008, having previously held positions at Cambridge, Columbia and London Universities.

"Andrew W. Mellon belonged to a remarkable American generation which witnessed the creation and accumulation of individual fortunes in unprecedented abundance by such men as Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Morgan, and Frick."

The Mellons were Protestant Scotch-Irish ★ ★ ★ ★★
Mellon An American Life by David Cannadine

biography of Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937)

Sir David Cannadine joined Princeton in the fall of 2008, having previously held positions at Cambridge, Columbia and London Universities.

"Andrew W. Mellon belonged to a remarkable American generation which witnessed the creation and accumulation of individual fortunes in unprecedented abundance by such men as Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Morgan, and Frick."

The Mellons were Protestant Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in south western Pennsylvania in 1818.

Father, Thomas (known in later years as the judge) instilled self sufficiency and an entrepreneurial
spirit in his sons.
Thomas began the accumulation of family wealth.
The Mellons were one catalyst in the transformation of western Pennsylvania into one of the then richest industrial regions in the United States.
Among the many companies Andrew would later help to found and fund were ALCOA, Carborundum, Koppers, and Gulf Oil.
Andrew excelled as "businessman and banker; as a politician and statesman; as an art collector; and as a philanthropist. "
During his life, Andrew gave away nearly ten million dollars.
He was very generous to charitable endeavors and educational institutions in Pittsburgh.
But, his most famous gift was to the American people in money and fine art to establish the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Besides being a financial pioneer, he was
49th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office.....March 9, 1921 – February 12, 1932.

Cannadine ,as biographer, provided a very rich reading experience.
He approached A W Mellon holistically and I felt he investigated all pertinent phases of Mellon's life and personality.

-------------------
★★★★★
Being someone who loves the tapestry that is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...I call it a read worth your time ...more
4

Jan 26, 2010

David Cannadine's massive and detailed biography of Andrew W. Mellon is a well done examination of one of the major business figures in American history. He became a key figure in companies such as Gulf Oil, Alcoa, and, of course, Mellon National Bank, among others.

The biography begins with a background of the family, to provide context for Andrew Mellon's life. His own father, "Judge" Mellon, had been a "larger than life" figure, working until late in his life. His son, and other family David Cannadine's massive and detailed biography of Andrew W. Mellon is a well done examination of one of the major business figures in American history. He became a key figure in companies such as Gulf Oil, Alcoa, and, of course, Mellon National Bank, among others.

The biography begins with a background of the family, to provide context for Andrew Mellon's life. His own father, "Judge" Mellon, had been a "larger than life" figure, working until late in his life. His son, and other family members, continued the tradition of the Mellon family, increasing its financial power and the family's wealth.

Mellon's life is well told here. And not just the business side (which is done exceedingly well). His rough marriage to Nora (and their odd later in life semi-reconciliation) and his two children from that union were an important, and sometimes painful, part of his life. Indeed, one can draw something of an analogy between Galsworthy's Soames Forsyte and Mellon.

The book also details his public service, from his role in Republican politics in Pennsylvania to his tour of duty as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. He might better have left office upon Coolidge's relinquishing the presidency, since he was never as close to Hoover, and had to live through the Great Depression on his watch as Treasure Secretary. After FDR's victory in 1932, Mellon became the target of tax charges and spent years trying to defend himself.

The final part of the book discusses the art collection he had been developing and his role in creating the National Gallery of Art. Oddly enough, after his combat with the Roosevelt Administration over the tax case, Roosevelt was most gracious in working with Mellon and acknowledging his work in helping to make the Gallery a reality.

The book is well documented and filled with relevant details. For those not liking massive biographies, this will not be a good read. Also, Cannadine is a functional writer, but the pages do not fly by because of any particular stylistic grace. But it is a strong work dealing with an important subject.
...more
3

Dec 22, 2013

One would think Andrew W. Mellon lead a fascinating life, at least if one just laid out the bare outlines of his life. He was one of the richest men of his age, but unlike other industrial titans like Rockefeller and Carnegie, he did not reap his fortune from one industry. Instead, from the platform of his Mellon National Bank and Union Trust Company, he helped fund and launch everything from Gulf Oil (whose Spindletop find in 1901 initiated the empire of Texas petroleum) to the first major One would think Andrew W. Mellon lead a fascinating life, at least if one just laid out the bare outlines of his life. He was one of the richest men of his age, but unlike other industrial titans like Rockefeller and Carnegie, he did not reap his fortune from one industry. Instead, from the platform of his Mellon National Bank and Union Trust Company, he helped fund and launch everything from Gulf Oil (whose Spindletop find in 1901 initiated the empire of Texas petroleum) to the first major aluminium company in the US, Alcoa (Chester Hall's patent on refining cheap aluminum started the industry) to coal plants to railroad cars to shipbuilding to land development and to the Overholt distillery. In the 1920s, while still the third richest person in the country, he became the third-longest serving Secretary of the Treasury ever, for 10 years leading the charge of spending reductions and tax-cuts through three different Presidents. Then in the 1930s, he became Ambassador to Great Britain before he was persecuted by a politically motivated tax charge initiated by FDR, and then he finally donated his nonpareil painting collection to the government to form the National Gallery of Art before passing away in 1937. Beyond this he was involved in a messy public divorce and a few other minor financial scandals. Sounds like the basis for an interesting book, right?

Unfortunately wrong in this case. David Cannadine heretofore has only written on the British aristocracy, and for still unknown reasons was chosen by Andrew Mellon's son Paul Mellon to have first access to Mellon's personal papers, from which this book emerged. It seems, however, as if Cannadine is not particularly enamored of American history and not particularly interested in his subject, even though he pursues him through 600-plus dense pages.

If acquiring his immense fortune took any inventiveness or forethought on Mellon's part, we don't see it here. Instead, Mellon's ever lengthening investments and purchases are merely cataloged with little comment on the ideas that went into them. Similarly the story of his art collection, of which Cannadine records almost every acquisition and near acquisition, is here told mainly as of series of paintings purchased along with their price (we get a better glimpse at the world famous art-dealer Joseph Duveen, who hyperbolicly trumpeted every painting in his possession while employing secret spies in Mellon's household to search his trash, keep tabs on his accounts, and transmit his whims to Duveen). At the same time, Cannadine spends almost as much time explaining Mellon's selective subventions to his ex-wife's nare-do-well brothers as he does discussing the grand debt reduction accords reached with European nations after the first World War. All in all, it seems like Mellon's real accomplishments are given short shrift here.

In the author's defense, it does seem like Mellon was a preternaturally laconic individual, with a high degree of Scotch-Irish, Presbyterian starchiness, and he revealed little of himself in letters or even to close friends (his closest friend and business partner, Henry Clay Frick, seems to have said little about him other than commonplaces about respecting his uprightness and moral compass). So perhaps there were not a lot of internal depths to plumb here. And Mellon did accomplish so much in his life that merely cataloging them all in such a book as this may leave little room for deep analysis. Still, I would have liked to read more about the means of Mellon's accomplishments rather than the mere ends.

This book, though, remains the lone biography of one of the most important American figures of the 20th century. I hope we can wait for a better one. ...more
5

Jul 15, 2018

What an amazing individual. I never realized he had done so much.
3

Aug 15, 2019

A bit heavy, actually. I enjoy the stories of people in biographies. This did bog down a bit in his art collection. Now, as I'm not really into the art side of things, perhaps I'm biased in my review.
4

Aug 26, 2019

Mostly writing to commemorate the fact that I finished the book on the anniversary of Andrew Mellons death.

The author is too sympathetic to Rosevelt. although he does acknowledge that the Tax Trial was a bogus scheme, he implies that it was justified simply because Mellon was rich. Mostly writing to commemorate the fact that I finished the book on the anniversary of Andrew Mellon’s death.

The author is too sympathetic to Rosevelt. although he does acknowledge that the Tax Trial was a bogus scheme, he implies that it was justified simply because Mellon was rich. ...more
3

Jun 29, 2019

Took me over a year, off and on, to read this book. While Mellon is a great American that more people should know about, and appreciate, it is hard to be interested in his overall life for 600+ pages. Very meticulous research, 12 years, by the author which I can appreciate. Gave it three Stars because despite the lack of hard hitting events, the author still makes it an interesting enough read. I am glad I took the time to read the whole thing.
4

Aug 23, 2013

This is a biography of the American financier, Andrew W. Mellon. It was financed by his son, Paul Mellon, but you don't learn that until the end.

For most people, the name sounds famliar but none of them really know who Mellon was. He was the son of an Irish immigrant, and his father, Thomas, came to the United States in the early 1830s. By luck and happenstance, the Mellons were able to weather a single depression -- and Thomas Mellon ruthlessly took advantage of his neighbors' troubles to buy This is a biography of the American financier, Andrew W. Mellon. It was financed by his son, Paul Mellon, but you don't learn that until the end.

For most people, the name sounds famliar but none of them really know who Mellon was. He was the son of an Irish immigrant, and his father, Thomas, came to the United States in the early 1830s. By luck and happenstance, the Mellons were able to weather a single depression -- and Thomas Mellon ruthlessly took advantage of his neighbors' troubles to buy up lots of land, businesses, and raw materials. Thus, the Mellons were set on a path to insane wealth. Conservative in their investments, unwilling to get into industry but rather focused on banking, the Mellons were already fabulously wealthy by the time Andrew came of age after the Civil War.

Andrew Mellon was unemotional, distant, reserved, and ruthless. He was a chip off the old block. He spent most of his adult life earning huge sums of money. He married late in life, married poorly (his wife was self-absorbed, a hypochondriac, a flirt, and a financial idiot), and had two children -- both of whom ended up neurotic and lacking in any goals in life.

In 1921, Mellon was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Warren G. Harding. He not only served the two years of the Harding presidency, he served Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover as well. During his time in office, Mellon reduced taxes, increased tax revenues (largely by encouraging the rich to start paying rather than avoiding taxes), and got European nations to begin repaying their World War I debts to the United States (mostly by forgiving big chunks of the debt, and stretching out payments on what was left).

But Mellon didn't see the Great Depression coming (even though a decade's worth of signs were there) and did precious little to alleviate it. President Franklin D. Roosevelt hounded Mellon relentlessly, but never once won an income tax evasion case against him.

Mellon came to art collecting late in life, but amassed a large collection. In 1937, he donated his art collection to the American people -- and built the National Gallery of Art to house it in. A small portion of his collection later also formed the nucleus of the National Portrait Gallery.

David Cannadine's biography of Andrew W. Mellon is really the only one out there. The biography is very, very heavily focused on Thomas Mellon's life (it takes up several chapters) and Andrew W. Mellon's early life, marriage, the childhoods of his children, and the period before he becomes Secretary of the Treasury. I felt the biography was fairly even-handed in these regards. This was a period of great labor unrest in the U.S., and a period of immense poverty for the majoirty of people. Cannadine neither excoriates Mellon for his unfeeling attitude toward the poor or working class, nor does he excuse Mellon's unfeeling attitude. What seemed to be missing here was a sense of what Mellon himself thought or did about it. It seems that Mellon's personal papers reveal almost nothing about his thoughts in these regards, and given Mellon's reticence toward speech (private or public) probably there is little else out there. But this part of the biography seemed a bit thin on the great issues of the day.

Oddly, Mellon's 10 years as Secretary of the Treasury are much less detailed than one might want. A great deal is skimmed over here, including how Mellon was chosen for the job. While there is an excellent discussion of Mellon's role in tax policy and European debt negotiations, most of the rest of Mellon's actions as Treasury Secretary are simply absent. This is especially true for Mellon's role in building the Federal Triangle, for which there is ample documentary evidence. Cannadine makes it quite clear that Mellon was in outright violation of federal law prohibiting his conducting personal business while Secretary. But while this is mentioned often enough, Cannadine makes little of it. "Yes, he murdered someone. Oh, but let's talk for eight more pages about his whittling skills." Cannadine goes to similar lengths to document Mellon's tax trials, but here he is vociferous in his defense of Mellon and denounces FDR and Mellon's successor, Henry Morgenthau.

Much of the book is dedicated to Mellon's extensive acqusition of art. I've never seen such a detailed study of Mellon's art collecting, and this is a major contribution to the literature as well as a history of the genesis of the National Gallery of Art. Where Cannadine is less successful is in discussing the details of Mellon's involvement in getting Congress and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to accept his donation of art and building, and in getting the structure built (at least partially; Mellon died before it was half-completed).

This is an excellent biography overall. One can take issue with the emphases, and with the skimpiness of detail. But if one is to trust the author at all, you have to believe that the thin parts are due either to a judgment call (does anyone really want to read about architectural history and John Russell Pope? eh...) or due to lack of documentary evidence.

This is not a light volume. Toss this at the cat, and you'll bury kitty next to the goldfish in the back yard the next day. With extensive appendices and footnotes, it's 800 pages. The main text is just over 500 pages. Yet, the prose is eminently readable and there is occasionally an excellent turn of phrase that will have you chuckle, frown, or raise your eyebrows.

With little secondary sources about Mellon published prior to this work, David Cannidine had some heavy lifting to do. He proved up to it. ...more
4

Jul 24, 2019

Knowing next to nothing about Mellon before reading this, I found this book pretty interesting. It also seemed to include a history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania's Scotch-Irish roots (more so than Nasaw's Carnegie biography), which was a big part of the Mellon's life.

Actually it seems that most of Andrew Mellon's successful endeavors were by taking his father's advice, so I'd be curious to read "Thomas Mellon and his Times". It seems that when he veered from this advice (as with his Knowing next to nothing about Mellon before reading this, I found this book pretty interesting. It also seemed to include a history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania's Scotch-Irish roots (more so than Nasaw's Carnegie biography), which was a big part of the Mellon's life.

Actually it seems that most of Andrew Mellon's successful endeavors were by taking his father's advice, so I'd be curious to read "Thomas Mellon and his Times". It seems that when he veered from this advice (as with his marriage) is when he got into trouble.

It was also interesting to read about Mellon's later political life, and see some of FDR's more 'gangster' side in dealing with the rich industrialists.

I didn't know he had founded Alcoa, or that he had established the National Gallery of Art in DC. ...more
3

Dec 18, 2017

Andrew Mellon was a man so hopelessly dull that the first 6th of the book is about his father, and each chapter contains excerpts from his autobiography. David Cannadine has done his best considering the subject, fleshing out what would be his most enduring legacy in the National Gallery of Art, showing the development from pedestrian art collector, to amassing one of the finest collections in the nation. I wish that there was more done with his time during the Coolidge and Hoover Andrew Mellon was a man so hopelessly dull that the first 6th of the book is about his father, and each chapter contains excerpts from his autobiography. David Cannadine has done his best considering the subject, fleshing out what would be his most enduring legacy in the National Gallery of Art, showing the development from pedestrian art collector, to amassing one of the finest collections in the nation. I wish that there was more done with his time during the Coolidge and Hoover administrations, prior to and during the Great Depression (even the brief references in Charles Rappleye’s ‘Herbert Hoover in the White House’ gives a greater impression of his involvement). In the Acknowledgements its stated that the book was written at the request of his son, Paul Mellon. So you can judge the impartiality based on that information (it pays to read other historical books from this period to get a balanced account). ...more
4

Jul 03, 2019

I found this a fascinating read if for anything the striking parallels between this man's life and someone else (who shall remain nameless.)

Mellon, an Ulster-Scott, was born into money thanks to his father, a self-made man who made a fortune on real-estate speculation. (Sounds familiar...)

After making a fortune of his own, in his later years he got into politics where he ultimately served as our country's Treasury Secretary between 1922 and 1932. Mellon, a staunch big business Republican, I found this a fascinating read if for anything the striking parallels between this man's life and someone else (who shall remain nameless.)

Mellon, an Ulster-Scott, was born into money thanks to his father, a self-made man who made a fortune on real-estate speculation. (Sounds familiar...)

After making a fortune of his own, in his later years he got into politics where he ultimately served as our country's Treasury Secretary between 1922 and 1932. Mellon, a staunch big business Republican, often touted Government's laissez-faire approach to managing the economy. (hmmm...)

One of Mellon's misgiving's was his refusal to sell his stakes in his various businesses when he served. He was constantly under the threat of impeachment when it became clear that his various businesses were profiting handsomely from government initiatives. (Wait a minute...)

More damningly, while conducting US Treasury business for years he secretly dealt with the Russians buying up various paintings and in turn helping finance Russia's Bolshevik government. (Where have I heard this before.?)

After he left office he spent the last 5 years of his life fighting off lawsuits brought about by the democrats who meticulously poured over his tax filings and accused him of tax evasion. ( Sign of things to come??)

Andrew Mellon was a savvy businessman during the "robber-baron" era of the industrial revolution whose corporate legacies (Alcoa and Mellon bank) live on to this day. That his incredible legacy and accomplishments (as both an astute business and Secretary of the US Treasury for over 10 years) were forever tainted by FDR's political attacks during the sunset of his life is a shame because there is so much more to appreciate about this icon than what is commonly understood....

Think of him the next time you visit the National Academy of the Arts in DC. (Both the building and all of the incredible art work therein were all his doing.)

A Goodread. ...more
4

Jul 06, 2018

I became interested in the life of Andrew Mellon while reading the book The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes (which I highly recommend). I could tell that this biography was very thoroughly researched and for the most part presented an unbiased view of the life of not only Andrew Mellon but also his father and siblings. It was a very worthwhile read and taught me a lot about not only the primary characters, but also about the history of the period (late 19th to mid-20th century), and I am grateful I became interested in the life of Andrew Mellon while reading the book The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes (which I highly recommend). I could tell that this biography was very thoroughly researched and for the most part presented an unbiased view of the life of not only Andrew Mellon but also his father and siblings. It was a very worthwhile read and taught me a lot about not only the primary characters, but also about the history of the period (late 19th to mid-20th century), and I am grateful that the author undertook the work. I have only two criticisms of the book. First, like most of the nonfiction I read it was about twice as long as it needed to be to convey all the necessary information. Do I really need to know the exact name, artist and selling price of the hundreds of works of art Mellon purchased throughout his lifetime? Or recount details of the dozens of situations Mellon's ex-wife's brothers found themselves in that required Mellon to bail them out? My bigger criticism is that the author's liberal bias became evident in his effusive language about FDR and his assertion as fact that FDR was a great president and that The New Deal saved the country. Personally I think FDR was possibly our worst president, and the entitlement culture he spawned will be the ultimate downfall of our once great nation. If Hoover had listened to Andrew Mellon when the depression started, it could have been nothing more than a moderate recession. FDR exploited and purposefully extended the great depression for political gain, so as to shift power to the federal government from the states and private enterprise and create permanent voting blocks for democrats by creating entitlements for seniors and legalizing extortion (i.e. collective bargaining) for labor unions. Alas, the fact that many Americans hold these opinions about Roosevelt was not mentioned by the author. ...more

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