Recently the world-famous Carnegie Hall in the midtown section of Manhattan announced its schedule for 2021-2022. After the history changing year of 2020, the music venue is set to resume operations as music lovers return to enjoy all that it has to offer. Opened in 1891, Carnegie Hall remains one of the most prestigious concert venues in New York City and keeps the name of its creator alive many years after his death. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) long ago cemented his place in American history as a successful philanthropist and one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the American steel industry. In his later years he sat down to write his life story that became this engaging autobiography.
The story begins in the Scottish town of Dunfermline where Carnegie is born on November 25, 1835. He fondly recalls his childhood and the great memories of his time as a youth. But for “Andra” as he is called, America is the place to be, and he soon sets his eyes on the United States. He eventually makes his way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and it is here in America that the Andrew Carnegie known to America begins his rise. After arriving in the United States, he recalls the dreary scene that existed in Pittsburgh in the middle 1800s. To say that it is far different from the Pittsburgh of today would be a massive understatement. Financially Pittsburgh is not in the greatest shape and Carnegie takes on a series of smaller jobs but continues to learn business practices. And it is not long before fate steps in and he finds himself working for the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. But as we see in the book, it was not meant to be his final destination and fate steps in yet again taking him to Washington, D.C. where he is assigned a high-ranking and important position in the telegraph department allowing him to make observations about the nation’s capital, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885).
After a brief return to Scotland in 1862, Carnegie arrives back on American soil and the businessman that he was destined to be is off to the races. He soon makes one shrewd decision after another as corporations are dissolved and new ones are formed. His rise in the business world through the steel and railway industries permitted him to cross paths with other financial greats such as George Pullman (1831-1897) and J.P. Morgan (1837-1913). He also encounters other figures who come in and out the story according to the role they played in his life. Carnegie is highly observant and at times plays peacemaker with those on opposite sides. When looking back on his life he remarks:
“Most quarrels become acute from the parties not seeing and communicating with each other and hearing too much of their disagreement from others. They do not fully understand the other’s point of view and all that can be said for it. Wise is he who offers the hand of reconciliation should a difference with a friend arise. Unhappy he to the end of his days who refuses it. No possible gain atones for the loss of one who has been a friend even if that friend has become somewhat less dear to you than before. He is still one with whom you have been intimate, and as age comes on friends pass rapidly away and leave you.”
The words are wise and when I think of society’s issues today, this quote is hauntingly accurate. Carnegie was keenly observant about human nature and the wisdom he gained is clear in the book. What I also found to be appealing about the book is not just the story which is incredible on its own but Carnegie’s ability to relate to all people regardless of who they are or where they come from. As an ardent opponent of slavery and discrimination, he recalls several situations wherein the issue of race came up. Carnegie had a great sense of humor and his words to those with whom he conversed are food for thought. And his association with the Tuskegee Institute and Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) is just one example of the enormous generosity that Carnegie became known for.
As the book progresses, Carnegie gives the reader something to think about after each situation plays itself out. Whether it was a tough business deal or an encounter with a difficult person, he remains in good spirits as he tells his story. And not once does he resort to gossip or the slandering of a person’s name. His upbeat personality was certainly not an act, and he has this to say for those who are listening:
“A sunny disposition is worth more than fortune. Young people should know that it can be cultivated; that the mind like the body can be moved from the shade into sunshine.”
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and embracing many of Carnegie’s wise words. And though he died in 1919, many lessons he explains can still be applied today. Of course, the world is a very different place, but some truths will always remain with us. Prior to reading the book, I confess that my knowledge of Carnegie’s personal life was quite limited but when I saw this recommendation, I reminded myself that there is no time like the present. My thirst for knowledge has once again been satisfied and I passionately believe this book is a gift that keeps on giving. And regardless of our occupation, age, sex, etc., something can be found here by all. Carnegie was ahead of his time and rightfully so.
“There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.” – Andrew Carnegie
ASIN : B004UKDO7M