What is a summary for Harold C. Livesay's Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harold C. Livesay's Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business is a biography of Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Harold C. Livesay's book begins on on November 25, 1835 in  Dunfermline, Scotland when Carengie was born to poor parents. It covers the family's emigration to the United States in 1848 in search of economic opportunity, and Carnegie's career as industrialist and philanthropist, and culminates with his death in August 11, 1919. The author Harold C. Livesay, a professor in the History Department at Texas A&M University, himself held some of the same sort of blue collar jobs in which the Carnegie family labored before obtaining his undergraduate and graduate degrees, and specializing in American economic and labor history. 

This best-selling biography, written for a general audience, begins with a description of how emigrant communities cooperate to help members achieve the "American Dream," providing not only social and career networks but often temporary accommodations and facilitating new immigrants' adaptations to a new world. Next, it covers Carnegie's apprenticeship in the railroad industry, and how he used that expertise as a core to his career. From his initial railroad position, he begins an investment program, and learns how finance and growth of capital underpin wealth, and moves to New York, where he becomes increasingly skilled at stock manipulation and meets many of the leading thinkers of his period. The biography then traces Carnegie's successes in the railroad and steel businesses and his development of a successful industrial conglomerate. 

Although the book focuses on Carnegie's industrial career, perhaps just as impressive as Carnegie's achievements as an industrialist were his authorial and philanthropic activities, especially after his 1901 retirement. Among his greatest and most enduring achievement were his endowments of hundreds of public libraries across the United States and Scotland, giving future generations free access to the sort of knowledge that would allow them to follow the same path of self-improvement that he did. 

laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business, Livesay examines the fundamentals of the American dream, industrialism, and corporate success through the lens of railroad development and Andrew Carnegie, an extremely successful businessman who moved with his family from Scotland to the United States. Livesay says:

His [Carnegie's] most spectacular achievement — building Carnegie Steel into the world's largest steel producer — rested primarily on his successful transfer of the railroad's [Pennsylvania's] managerial methods to the manufacturing sector of the economy. The first industrialist to effect this adaptation, he made his own company so efficient that his competitors were forced to emulate him. Carnegie thus played a critical role in the genesis of the American system of manufacturing that built the United States into the world's leading industrial power by 1900. (Livesay, 29)

The book opens with a description of Scotland's own Industrial Revolution and how it led the Carnegie family to emigrate to America. He examines the rise of the family's fortunes in America and how it coincided with the expansion of the railroad industry. Carnegie helped build the Pennsylvania Railroad to become the largest private business firm in the entire world, based on revenue, employees, and asset value.

Livesay examines Carnegie's character -- often to a fault, calling Carnegie a liar, wicked, tricky, and other negative terms. At the same time, he highlights his ambition and business acumen. There are many business-relevant quotes from Carnegie throughout the book. Livesay discusses the development of the Carnegie Steel Company, the business principles held by Carnegie, and the challenges he faced. At the same time, Livesay tracks the growth of the railroad industry as a major contributor to American corporate development.

Andrew Carnegie died in 1919 in his sleep. He donated more than $350,000,000 to a range of charitable and educational causes before he passed away.

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