BERKELEYSIDE -- He founded Stanford University to honor his 15-year-old son who died of typhoid fever — and left the university near bankruptcy when he died, without an endowment. He was elected as California’s eighth governor when his business partners effectively bought the job for him after he had lost four previous election campaigns by embarrassing margins. His crowning achievement was the completion of the transcontinental railway, a feat financed by the federal government with loans he never repaid. This otherwise ordinary man whose principal virtue was persistence was Leland Stanford, the subject of journalist Roland de Wolk’s superb new account of Stanford’s “preposterous career and life,” “American Disruptor.”
de Wolk was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the Oakland Tribune for its coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. He has also reported for the San Francisco Chronicle and KTVU and written for the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. He’s won a number of awards for his journalism. De Wolk is a graduate of UC Berkeley and teaches Journalism at San Francisco State University. “American Disruptor” is his fourth book.