Andrew Carnegie
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"Andrew Carnegie" Summary

By David Nasaw

biography | 896 pages | Published in 2006

Majestically told and based on materials not available to any previous biographer, the definitive life of Andrew Carnegie-one of American business's most iconic and elusive titans-by the bestselling author of The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Celebrated historian David Nasaw, whom The New York Times Book Review has called "a meticulous researcher and a cool analyst," brings new life to the story of one of America's most famous and successful businessmen and philanthropists- in what will prove to be the biography of the season. Born of modest origins in Scotland in 1835, Andrew Carnegie is best known as the founder of Carnegie Steel. His rags to riches story has never been told as dramatically and vividly as in Nasaw's new biography. Carnegie, the son of an impoverished linen weaver, moved to Pittsburgh at the age of thirteen. The embodiment of the American dream, he pulled himself up from bobbin boy in a cotton factory to become the richest man in the world. He spent the rest of his life giving away the fortune he had accumulated and crusading for international peace. For all that he accomplished and came to represent to the American public-a wildly successful businessman and capitalist, a self-educated writer, peace activist, philanthropist, man of letters, lover of culture, and unabashed enthusiast for American democracy and capitalism-Carnegie has remained, to this day, an enigma. Nasaw explains how Carnegie made his early fortune and what prompted him to give it all away, how he was drawn into the campaign first against American involvement in the Spanish-American War and then for international peace, and how he used his friendships with presidents and prime ministers to try to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. With a trove of new material-unpublished chapters of Carnegie's Autobiography; personal letters between Carnegie and his future wife, Louise, and other family members; his prenuptial agreement; diaries of family and close friends; his applications for citizenship; his extensive correspondence with Henry Clay Frick; and dozens of private letters to and from presidents Grant, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, and British prime ministers Gladstone and Balfour, as well as friends Herbert Spencer, Matthew Arnold, and Mark Twain-Nasaw brilliantly plumbs the core of this facinating and complex man, deftly placing his life in cultural and political context as only a master storyteller can.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

The definitive biography of Andrew Carnegie, a self-made steel magnate and philanthropist who reshaped American industry and philanthropy.


In the book "Andrew Carnegie" by David Nasaw, the life and legacy of one of the most influential figures in American history are explored. Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist, philanthropist, and business magnate who played a significant role in the development of the steel industry in the late 19th century. Nasaw's biography delves into Carnegie's humble beginnings, his rise to wealth and power, and his philanthropic endeavors that left a lasting impact on society. This book offers a comprehensive and engaging account of Carnegie's life, providing readers with a deeper understanding of the man behind the steel empire.

Brief Synopsis

The book begins by introducing Andrew Carnegie's early life in Dunfermline, Scotland, where he was born into a poor family. The story then follows his family's emigration to the United States, settling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was in this industrial city that Carnegie's entrepreneurial spirit began to take shape.

Carnegie's first job in the United States was as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory, but he quickly worked his way up the ranks. He went on to become a telegraph messenger boy, where he gained valuable connections and knowledge of the emerging telegraph industry. This experience would prove instrumental in his future success.

Carnegie's breakthrough came when he started investing in the railroad industry, recognizing its potential for growth. He established the Keystone Bridge Company, which specialized in the construction of iron bridges. This venture paved the way for his entry into the steel industry.

With his business acumen and relentless drive, Carnegie founded the Carnegie Steel Company, which became the largest and most profitable steel company in the world. He revolutionized the steel production process, implementing new technologies and business practices that significantly increased efficiency and productivity.

Main Characters

Andrew CarnegieThe protagonist of the book, Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist.
Henry Clay FrickCarnegie's business partner and eventual rival, Frick played a key role in the growth of the Carnegie Steel Company.
Charles M. SchwabAn influential figure in the steel industry and Carnegie's right-hand man.
Thomas A. ScottA prominent figure in the railroad industry and a mentor to Carnegie.

Summary of Different Story Points over Chapters

Chapter 1: The Man

This chapter provides an overview of Andrew Carnegie's childhood in Scotland, his family's move to the United States, and his early jobs in the industrial city of Pittsburgh.

Chapter 2: The Boy

Here, Nasaw explores Carnegie's journey from a bobbin boy to a telegraph messenger and the valuable lessons he learned during this time.

Chapter 3: The Railroad

Carnegie's entry into the railroad industry is detailed in this chapter, highlighting his investments and the establishment of the Keystone Bridge Company.

Chapter 4: The Steel

The focus shifts to Carnegie's foray into the steel industry, his founding of the Carnegie Steel Company, and his implementation of innovative practices.

Chapter 5: The Men

This chapter delves into the relationships Carnegie formed with key individuals, including Henry Clay Frick and Charles M. Schwab.

Chapter 6: The Strike

Nasaw explores the turbulent labor relations within the Carnegie Steel Company, culminating in the infamous Homestead Strike of 1892.

Chapter 7: The Gospel

Carnegie's evolving philosophy on wealth and his commitment to philanthropy are examined in this chapter.

Chapter 8: The Philanthropist

The book concludes with an exploration of Carnegie's philanthropic efforts and the establishment of institutions such as libraries and educational foundations.

Main Events

  • Carnegie's family emigrates to the United States.
  • Carnegie works as a bobbin boy and telegraph messenger.
  • Carnegie invests in the railroad industry and establishes the Keystone Bridge Company.
  • Carnegie founds the Carnegie Steel Company and becomes a dominant force in the steel industry.
  • Carnegie forms crucial partnerships with Henry Clay Frick and Charles M. Schwab.
  • The Homestead Strike of 1892 tests Carnegie's handling of labor relations.
  • Carnegie embraces a philosophy of wealth redistribution through philanthropy.
  • Carnegie establishes numerous institutions and foundations to support education and the arts.

Themes and Insights

Wealth and Success

The book explores the relationship between wealth and success, highlighting Carnegie's relentless pursuit of wealth and the impact it had on his personal life and society as a whole. It raises questions about the ethical responsibility of the wealthy and the potential consequences of extreme wealth concentration.

Philanthropy and Giving

Carnegie's commitment to philanthropy is a central theme in the book. It delves into his motivations for giving and the impact of his charitable contributions on education, culture, and society. The book encourages readers to consider the power and responsibility of wealth for the betterment of society.

Labor Relations and Power

Nasaw examines the complex dynamics of labor relations during Carnegie's time, particularly during the Homestead Strike. The book sheds light on the power imbalances between workers and industrialists, raising questions about the role of unions and the treatment of workers in a rapidly industrializing society.

Reader's Takeaway

"Andrew Carnegie" offers readers a captivating and comprehensive account of one of America's most influential figures. It provides valuable insights into the life of a self-made man, the growth of the steel industry, and the impact of wealth on society. Nasaw's meticulous research and engaging storytelling make this biography a must-read for anyone interested in American history, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy.


David Nasaw's "Andrew Carnegie" is an illuminating biography that delves into the life, achievements, and philanthropic legacy of the iconic industrialist. Through a detailed exploration of Carnegie's journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of the wealthiest individuals of his time, Nasaw offers readers a rich and nuanced understanding of Carnegie's character, his business ventures, and his lasting impact on society. This book is an invaluable resource for those seeking to gain insights into the life of Andrew Carnegie and the transformative era in which he lived.

Andrew Carnegie FAQ

  1. Who is the author of 'Andrew Carnegie'?

    The author of 'Andrew Carnegie' is David Nasaw.

  2. What is the book 'Andrew Carnegie' about?

    'Andrew Carnegie' is a biography that explores the life and achievements of the renowned industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.

  3. What are some key themes covered in the book?

    Some key themes covered in 'Andrew Carnegie' include Carnegie's rise from poverty to wealth, his business practices, his philanthropic efforts, and his impact on American society.

  4. Is 'Andrew Carnegie' based on extensive research?

    Yes, 'Andrew Carnegie' is based on extensive research. David Nasaw conducted thorough research, including access to Carnegie's personal papers and archives.

  5. Does the book provide insights into Carnegie's personal life?

    Yes, 'Andrew Carnegie' delves into Carnegie's personal life, including his family background, relationships, and personal motivations.

  6. Is 'Andrew Carnegie' a comprehensive biography?

    Yes, 'Andrew Carnegie' is considered a comprehensive biography as it provides a detailed account of Carnegie's life from his early years to his business ventures and philanthropy.

  7. Are there any criticisms of Andrew Carnegie discussed in the book?

    Yes, the book explores both the positive aspects of Carnegie's legacy as well as some of the criticisms he faced, including his labor practices and the impact of his concentration of wealth.

  8. What makes 'Andrew Carnegie' a notable biography?

    'Andrew Carnegie' is considered a notable biography due to its meticulous research, balanced portrayal of Carnegie, and its exploration of his immense influence on American industry and philanthropy.

  9. Can I gain insights into the Gilded Age through this book?

    Absolutely! 'Andrew Carnegie' provides a valuable perspective on the Gilded Age, a period of rapid economic growth and social inequality in American history.

  10. Is 'Andrew Carnegie' suitable for readers with a general interest in history?

    Yes, 'Andrew Carnegie' is suitable for readers with a general interest in history as it offers a captivating account of one of the most influential figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.