“Meet You in Hell” by Les Standiford

I’m constantly on the lookout for good business biographies, focused on the prime movers of the American economy — the men who built the modern world.

In that quest I recently finished “Meet You in Hell, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America.” The title pretty much says what it’s about.

The book isn’t bad but it’s not great either. It does avoid, mostly until page 300 or so, the usual lefty assault on these two great industrialists.

However, it could have been so much more. Instead of attacking them for being tough, calculating wealth and job creators it might have helped if Standiford had bothered to suss out how much the expansion of steel availability, increase in product quality and the subsequent drop in raw steel prices caused an economic explosion the world had never seen before.

Yes, working in an 1890s steel mill was probably pretty miserable but there was a reason people immigrated to America and took such jobs. The alternatives for many to such employment was starvation or working in an equally, if not more, miserable job like mining or lower paying occupations such as agricultural labor. Standiford sometimes gets a little too soft and seems to believe that steel can be produced without all that heat and molten mass.

In addition, I wanted to know more about the business side of things, especially relationships with men such as J.P. Morgan and Andrew Mellon.

The title refers to the acrimonious feelings (mostly on Frick’s side) that came from the breakup of their lucrative partnership. Frick felt Carnegie was duplicitous and had become a hypocrite — happy to enjoy the fruits of his wealth while pretending to be unaware of how they came about.

Around page 300 Standiford finally goes full liberal and whines for 10 pages that neither man paid the workers enough, especially considering how much money both of them made. The book could easily excise those pages and it would like be a smoother read.

Having said that, there was a lot to learn in the book and it was a worthwhile read as far as I was concerned.

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