T. J. Stiles

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T. J. Stiles at the 2010 Texas Book Festival.

T. J. Stiles is an award-winning American biographer who lives in San Francisco, California. His most recent book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), won a National Book Award[1] and a Pulitzer Prize.[2]


According to Stiles's website,[3] he was born and reared in Foley, Minnesota, a rural farming community. He graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with Distinction in History, and received a fellowship to study European history at Columbia University in New York, New York. After receiving a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy, he took a position in publishing at Oxford University Press, where he worked on books by some of the leading American historians.

Early publications[edit]

In the 1990s, Stiles edited a series of anthologies of primary sources on American history. These included The Citizen's Handbook (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1994); In Their Own Words: Civil War Commanders (New York: Perigee Books, 1995), In Their Own Words: Warriors and Pioneers (New York: Perigee Books, 1996), In Their Own Words: Robber Barons and Radicals (New York: Perigee Books, 1997), In Their Own Words: The Colonizers (New York: Perigee Books, 1998), and In Their Own Words: Founding Fathers (New York: Perigee Books, 1999), later republished as The American Revolution. Stiles also wrote for periodicals, authoring pieces for Smithsonian, Denver Post, and the Los Angeles Times.


Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War[edit]

In 2002, Stiles published Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002). This was a widely noted reassessment of the legendary outlaw, focusing on his life and historical role, rather than his folk-culture status. Stiles argued that Jesse James won political support by depicting himself as a Confederate avenger after the Civil War, as opposed to the traditional notion that he was an anti-railroad Robin Hood figure.[4]

The book received a cover review in the New York Times Book Review, and was favorably reviewed by many other publications in the United States and abroad.[5] A minor controversy flared up after its publication, when biographer Ted P. Yeatman, author of Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend (Nashville: Cumberland Books, 2000), attacked Stiles on the History News Network website. Before Yeatman died, Stiles writes, the two put the conflict behind them.[6] Yeatman criticized Stiles for contradicting statements in a children's book published under Stiles's name in 1994. Stiles noted that he had disowned the book after the publisher made changes after he had submitted his initial research; in any event, he observed that it was a book for children, one that predated his serious research into Jesse James. The children's book is no longer in print.[7] The dispute was a marginal one, with little substance. On his website, Stiles eulogizes Yeatman, and writes, "More recently we came to terms. . . . I am glad we didn't end on a negative note." Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War won general acclaim. It was named a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Biography, one of the Five Best Books of the Year by the London Sunday Times, an American Library Association Notable Book, one of the New York Public Library's 25 Books to Remember, and a Best Book of the Year by Library Journal, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bookpage, and the London Independent. It also won the English Speaking Union's Ambassador Book Award, the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship, the James-Younger Gang's Perry Award, and the Friends of the James Farm's John Newman Edwards Award.[5]

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt[edit]

In 2009, after seven years of work, Stiles published his second biography, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009). This massive study was the first comprehensive account of the life of "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, the nineteenth-century shipping and railroad mogul, financial backer of Vanderbilt University, and founder of the Gilded Age Vanderbilt dynasty. This book was also was widely and very favorably reviewed.[8][9] It went on to win the 2009 National Book Award for Nonfiction[1] and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.[10] It was also named a New York Times Notable Book and one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, the Financial Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.[5]

Fellowships and other awards[edit]

In 2011, Stiles received a Guggenheim Fellowship. From 2004 to 2005, Stiles held the Gilder Lehrman Fellowship in American History at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.[11][11] He has also received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Carleton College.[12][12]

Other writings, appearances, and professional positions[edit]

Stiles has published numerous reviews and essays. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Salon.com, The Atlantic online, and the New York Observer. He is also a popular public speaker and has appeared on several television documentaries. He served as a consultant and on-screen interview subject in the PBS series The American Experience, for the films Jesse James and Grand Central, among other programs. He also taught nonfiction creative writing at Columbia University.[3]

Currently Stiles also serves on the executive council of the Authors Guild[13] and on the advisory council of the Biographers International Organization.[14] He also blogs about the "art of biography writing" at Vanderbilog.blogspot.com.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Stiles practices and teaches Japanese Shotokan karate-do, and holds a 5th Dan from the Japan Karate Association. A resident of New York City for twenty years, he now lives in San Francisco, California, with his wife, son, and daughter.[3]


  1. ^ a b "With interview of Stiles, acceptance speech, award citation, and more". Nationalbook.org. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  2. ^ "Biography or Autobiography". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
  3. ^ a b c "Biographer". T.J. Stiles. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  4. ^ "Jesse James - Biographer T.J. Stiles". Tjstiles.com. 2007-03-25. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  5. ^ a b c "Reviews - Biographer T.J. Stiles". Tjstiles.com. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  6. ^ Shenkman, Rick. "History News Network | The Shoot Out Between the Jesse James Biographers". Hnn.us. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  7. ^ "Jesse James (The Chelsea House Library of Biography): T. J. Stiles: 9780791017388: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. 2004-01-01. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  8. ^ "In this book, Stiles raised serious doubts about the claims and secret sources in a 2007 book about Vanderbilt". Tjstiles.com. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  9. ^ "See The New York Times critic Dwight Garner's discussion on the Arts Beat blog on the Times website". Artsbeat.blognytimes.com. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  10. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  11. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  12. ^ a b "Carleton College: Class of 1986: Distinguished Alumni". Apps.carleton.edu. 2012-09-06. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  13. ^ "Scott Turow Elected President of Authors Guild; Judy Blume Is Vice President". The Authors Guild. 2010-04-28. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  14. ^ [2][dead link]
  15. ^ T.J. Stiles. "The Biographer's Blog". Vanderbilog.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 

External links[edit]