book attempts the history of a small class of men who arose at the time of our CivilWar and suddenly swept into power.The members of this new ruling class were generally, and quite aptly, called “barons,”“kings,” “empire-builders,” or even “emperors.” They were aggressive men, as were thefirst feudal barons ; sometimes they were lawless ; in important crises, nearly all of themtended to act without those established moral principles which fixed more or less theconduct of the common people of the community. At the same time, it has been noted,many of them showed volcanic energy and qualities of courage which, under anothereconomic clime, might have fitted them for immensely useful social constructions, andrendered them glorious rather than hateful to their people. These men were robber baronsas were their medieval counterparts, the dominating figures of an aggressive economic age.In any case, “to draw the American scene as it unfolded between the Civil War and the endof the nineteenth century, without these dominant figures looming in the foreground, is tomake a shadow picture,” as the Beards have written. “To put in the presidents and theleading senators . . . and leave out such prime actors in the drama is to show scant respectfor the substance of life. Why, moreover, should anyone be interested in the beginnings of the House of a Howard or Burleigh and indifferent to the rise of a House of Morgan orRockefeller ?”When the group of men who form the subject of this history arrived upon the scene, theUnited States was a mercantile-agrarian democracy. When they departed or retired fromactive life, it was something else : a unified industrial society, the effective economic,control of which was lodged in the hands of a hierarchy.In short, these men more or less knowingly played the leading rôles in an age of industrialrevolution. Even their quarrels, intrigues and misadventures (too often treated as merelydiverting or picturesque) are part of the mechanism of our history. Under their hands therenovation of our economic life proceeded relentlessly : large-scale production replaced thescattered, decentralized mode of production ; industrial enterprises became moreconcentrated, more “efficient” technically, and essentially “coöperative,” where they hadbeen purely individualistic and lamentably wasteful. But all this revolutionizing effort isbranded with the motive of private gain on the part of the new captains of industry. Toorganize and exploit the resources of a nation upon a gigantic scale, to regiment its farmersand workers into harmonious corps of producers, and to do this only in the name of anuncontrolled appetite for private profit—here surely is the great inherent contradictionwhence so much disaster, outrage and misery has flowed.