Saturday, August 04, 2007

Five best: biographies of American philanthropists

Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and author of the autobiography The Road to Home ( 2003) and Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith (2004), selected a five best "biographies of American philanthropists" list for Opinion Journal.

One title on the list:
Mellon by David Cannadine

British historian David Cannadine admits that he embarked on the research for a biography of Andrew Mellon (1855-1937) with some ill feeling about his subject: He believed Mellon to be "an unsympathetic person with unappealing politics." But after being given unfettered access to the financier's papers by the Mellon family and foundation, Mr. Cannadine seems to have developed a rapt -- if not always admiring -- interest in what he terms the "big life" that Mellon led. A passionate love of art led Mellon to amass a magnificent collection, including 21 of the Hermitage's greatest paintings. (Apparently, Stalin needed the money to advance the Soviet economy.) In 1937, Mellon deeded the collection to the American people in what Mr. Cannadine calls a philanthropic gift without "precedent or parallel" in the country's history. Thus was born the National Gallery of Art. At the time, the gift was valued at $60 million -- priceless today in terms of both worth and significance.
Read about Number One on Gregorian's list.

--Marshal Zeringue