Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie‘s physical feature could have deceived any. He was less than five feet tall. But that wasn’t the most intriguing part of this business guru. In Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie, the metaphorically massive man talks about his personal life and journey in business. He shares helpful tips to help one have a successful work and personal life. Coming from a person who made the right investment decisions, and had enjoyable retirement years, makes this publication a masterpiece. When he sold his iron and steel empire, he became the richest man in the world and relocated to Scotland to enjoy the fruits of his hard work.


Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography may have been intended to remind and insist on some important life’s values. At no point do you find him saying anything bad about anyone. He maintains a positive outlook in life and portrays himself as the kind of person anyone would be glad to hang around. Given that he was a very wealthy man, one would have imagined that his autobiography revolves around his massive wealth. Surprisingly, the author is very gracious and out-did himself in terms of giving back to society.

It is a great autobiography by a great man. He wrote it on several occasions, keenly highlighting his life’s transition from a poor Scottish boy to one of the wealthiest and most spirited entrepreneurs the United States has ever seen. Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie is a blueprint to success. It is not only an eye-opener in terms of the right ways to conduct business, but also shades more light on how best to treat workers and partners.

His early retirement is also something to marvel about. He entered into retirement with more money than he could spend. Instead of keeping it all for himself as most businesspersons do, he decided to give it all to charities. He started numerous funds and opened a number of libraries, most of which are in operation today. Indeed, he is a good portrayal of humanity.

Carnegie’s personal life explored

One of the main reasons why some people might want to read this autobiography is to learn more about Carnegie’s personal life. The author begins by exploring his early life. We get to learn that Andrew Carnegie emigrated from Dunfermline, Scotland, to the United States in 1848 at the age of 13. He started working as a telegraph messenger and by 1860s; he had made considerable investments in railroad, oil derricks, and bridges. His ability to make such investments was not because he earned much but because he maintained a keen eye on his expenditure. While working as one of the telegraph operators at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, the soon to be tycoon was paid $4.00 per week (an equivalent of $120 by today’s standards).

His rise from a poor immigrant to one of the richest men in the 19th century is a story of hard work, self-discipline, and determination. He narrates the whole of it in his autobiography.

Carnegie made his wealth in the steel industry by setting up an equivalent of a monopoly. He built a system of iron and steel operations that no one else has ever done. Using the Bessemer process, Carnegie reduced the cost of mass production of steel, something that helped him make vast profits. Even as his fortunes rose, he continued to impact the erection of buildings and structures all over the country with steel sold through his firm – Carnegie Steel Company.

Having made enough money, Carnegie eventually sold the business to J.P. Morgan. He resorted to enjoying his golden days in peaceful retirement. In the last 18 years of his life, Carnegie gave away $350 million (an equivalent of $65 billion) to charities. This is almost 90 percent of his wealth. He often called upon the rich to also give back to society. In 1889, he wrote the article The Gospel of Wealth in which he further insisted on his beliefs. One of the products of his philanthropic work is Carnegie Mellon University, which stands tall to-date.

The power of specialization

Most people often talk about getting employed or investing in speculative stocks. However, Carnegie never liked the idea. The iron and steel titan believed in specialization and self-enhancement. He writes that you ought to choose an industry, study it and know literally everything that is involved, and then start your own business. The bottom line is that you ultimately “become the master of your industry.” He says that he does not have faith in the idea of “scattering one’s resources”, adding that he has never come across anyone who made a lot of money by being concerned with so many ventures at a go.

Carnegie’s observations concerning specialization provide the chance to properly learn your line and give it the best. One is able to look at both the merits and demerits involved as well as be in a position to forecast happenings. In other words, you become an expert in your field, something that gives you a great competitive advantage.

It is worth noting that the author is a bit extreme in his observations regarding the need to specialize. It quite limiting when he says he has never met anyone who succeeded by concentrating in more than one area at a time. Maybe that’s because he hasn’t met modern businesses that are diversifying their investment portfolio to increase the chances of long-term gain. For instance, Apple Inc. is well-known for its iPhone series as well as iMacs. In recent times, the company has been trying its luck in the self-driven cars industry.

Thus, Carnegie’s idea of specialization holds only when you are interested in becoming a master of your industry. However, if you are also looking into the future, you will have to diversify. Remember that J.P. Morgan purchased Carnegie Steel Company, allowing him to invest in an area that was completely different from what he used to do – banking.

Need for friends of value

Throughout the book, Andrew Carnegie mentions a wide range of friends, many of whom are influential members of society. He highlights the likes of James Blaine, President Harrison, Matthew Arnold, Judge Mellon, Herbert Spencer, William Gladstone, and Mark Twain. His purpose for cultivating relationships with these individuals was not so that he could name-drop. Rather, he aimed at learning from each one of them.

The author describes his relationships with Herbert Spencer and Mr. Lott, both of whom he mentions he met long before receiving their note of introduction. Besides calling himself one of Spencer’s disciples, he narrates a conversation that they once had. Some readers might find it a bit of a challenge to keep up with the random generation of ideas in this section. All in all, Carnegie still manages to pass his message across. He tells of how Spencer liked stories and was a good laugher. “American stories seemed to please him more than others.” Andrew says that he was able to tell a few of these to get the philosopher to laugh. His main interest was to learn about Western Territories, which had attracted the attention of Europe. In particular, he liked more a story about Texas that Carnegie said.

Clearly, the above excerpt goes a long way in portraying Andrew Carnegie as a great storyteller. Some may argue that the author wanted to create a positive image of himself by making such a portrayal. However, that is not entirely true. Even following through the book from the first to the last chapters, are numerous story-telling instances.

In the current social media era, where it is easy to make friends on Facebook and other popular platforms, it is critical that we be able to keep the right circle of friends. Carnegie teaches us not to be lured by the desire to just have many people we call friends. Rather, they ought to be people who add real value to our lives.

Emotions and business

Emotions are powerful. They define you as a human being. It is humane to be happy, sad or angry. The only challenge arises when your moods begin to get in the way of your business operations and personal life. Carnegie advises young people that it is possible to take charge of the mind, just like the body, and decide the mood of the day.

The fact that emotions influence your interaction with people means it will influence your business decisions. You might make statements that strike your customers and partners the wrong way, setting you on the path of business failure. On the other hand, those who control their emotions will take sound actions regarding how you spend their money, time usage, and how to tackle challenges. Doing so is the most effective way to gain mental strength. The good thing is that there are no specific people who are best-suited to control their emotions. It is a skill which you learn each new day.

Andrew Carnegie’s book is on point when it mentions self-control as a vital skill. However, he does not get into details as to how you can become a master of your own emotions. Remember that this is meant to be a story about his life. For that reason, the author can be forgiven for deliberately leaving out that part. There are countless self-help books out there that solely focus on such a topic.

Travel to broaden your mind

One thing that Carnegie never apologized for was his love for traveling. He had a huge desire for adventure and often called upon others to also explore the world. He recalls a journey he once made on a horse and cart, which was almost the length of Britain. Even though this might be an exaggeration, the fact remains that he traveled a lot.

Throughout his travels, he aimed at learning something new. He was mostly interested in the cultures of the people he met. While in India, he explored the thoughts of Buddha and Zoroaster, while in China, he read more on Confucius. He developed this respect for all cultures because he had an open-minded personality. Furthermore, he believed that seeing new places allowed you to appreciate life in general.

Carnegie never stopped seeking knowledge and value. He is uniquely set apart from most rich men of his time in that they were more focused on money and less on value. This can be seen in one memorandum that he wrote himself while residing at St Nicholas Hotel. In the memo, he observes that earned $50,000 per year at the age of 33. He then goes on to argue that he could organize things around so that he makes the same money and spend the surplus on benevolent purposes. Andrew Carnegie concludes his remarks by expressing his desire to retire at the age of 35 and henceforth devote his life to reading and study.


Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography is carefully edited, sharing an interesting life and was the true reflection of the spirit of America of never giving up. Even though it might have been a bit over the top in letting portraying himself as nearly faultless, reading the book is quite insightful.

In essence, Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie gives a number of quick takeaways; (1) Put all your eggs in one basket but watch it keenly. Carnegie advises that you concentrate on building your expertise. (2) There is nothing as limiting as that person who is unwilling to do what they are good at.


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