Following a boyhood in 19th-century Pittsburgh, during which he learned from his Scotch-Irish immigrant father the lessons of self-sufficiency and wealth accumulation, 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 built a legendary personal fortune, tracking America's course to global economic supremacy. The Mellon way was to hold companies closely, including such iconic enterprises as Alcoa and Gulf Oil.
Personal happiness eluded Mellon, however: his loveless marriage at 45 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. 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.
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.