In This Review

Mellon: An American Life
Mellon: An American Life
By David Cannadine
Knopf, 2006, 816 pp

Dour, driven, and shy, Andrew Mellon is a difficult and unsympathetic subject for a biography. With great patience and skill, Cannadine has given us the best portrait of this great American financier, influential secretary of the Treasury, and creative philanthropist that we are likely to see for some time. Indeed, careful readers of this book are likely to understand the human side of Mellon better than did many of his closest associates or even his children. Cannadine is less successful when it comes to Mellon's business and political activities. As secretary of the Treasury from 1921 to 1932, Mellon stood at the center of the first concerted American effort to build an international financial system. As a finance and business leader, he was largely responsible for the organization of three of the most important American corporate networks of the twentieth century: Alcoa, Gulf Oil, and the Mellon Financial Corporation. Unfortunately, Cannadine's account of these dramatic activities is neither as complete nor as intelligent as his painstaking account of what, even to Mellon, were the drabber and less interesting facts of his private life.