Perhaps John Steele Gordon is really Flash Gordon in disguise, because I always seem to read his books at lightning speed, assimilating this 260 page trade paperback in a matter of just a few days. The Business of America was just as interesting, entertaining and enlightening as the first Gordon book I read, An Empire of Wealth. Gordon possesses an amazing ability to turn a potentially mundane historical business event into a fascinating, intricate and often ironic tale which in turn made this reader wonder why teachers, professors or colleagues failed to offer similar details of such important events. Perhaps it's just the way in which Mr. Gordon intricately weaves the details in the story that makes the reader feel as if they can understand or empathize with the entrepreneur, magnate, mogul or tycoon of the era.
The Business of America winds through the early days of business in the wilderness, past the steamboats on the Hudson, through the industrial revolution and the California gold rush to the dawn of the American automobile industry. Gordon continues through technological advances, the business of war, to a couple of guys named David and William. David and William are garage based tinkerers with $538 in capital. Their story, like many of the stories in The Business of America, is certainly worth being retold, a story about ingenuity and perseverance, partnership and opportunity. Without giving away too much detail, I think we can all agree that David Packard and William Hewlett found a way to move their modest company out of the garage.
One of my favorite stories in this business based history of America revolves around Steamboat monopolies and Captain Cornelius Vanderbilt. Surely Vanderbilt is a captain of industry; many may not realize he was also once a captain on a Steamboat. In a matter of just a few pages, Mr. Gordon takes us from monopolies to Steamboat races, reviewing the most famous steamboat race of the day between the Vanderbilt and The Oregon, with a fast but readily understood explanation of steamboat construction and race strategy along the way. The race wager was $1,000, no small sum at that time, and came as a result of a challenge from one George Law, steamboat entrepreneur, and as the last name might infer, a lawyer. Who won the race to Sing Sing and back that day? This was just another interesting, amusing and educational tale from our talented business history bard.
I would recommend The Business of America to anyone who is interested in history or business. For those of you who have yet to read a John Steele Gordon book, I can also suggest An Empire of Wealth or A Thread Across the Ocean, both excellent business history works by Mr. Gordon. Look for reviews on these books and Hamilton's Blessing in the near future.