American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford with author Roland De Wolk. Co-sponsored by Alta Magazine. | Mechanics' Institute

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American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford with author Roland De Wolk. Co-sponsored by Alta Magazine.
Roland De Wolk in conversation with Phil Matier, SF Chronicle

American Disruptor is the untold story of Leland Stanford -- from his birth in a backwoods bar to the founding of the world-class university that became and remains the nucleus of Silicon Valley. The life of this robber baron, politician, and historic influencer is the astonishing tale of how one supremely ambitious man became this country's original "disruptor" -- reshaping industry and engineering one of the greatest raids on the public treasury for America's transcontinental railroad, all while living more opulently than maharajas, kings, and emperors.

It is also the saga of how Stanford, once a serial failure, overcame all obstacles to become one of America's most powerful and wealthiest men, using his high elective office to enrich himself before losing the one thing that mattered most to him -- his only child and son. Scandal and intrigue would follow Stanford through his life, and even after his death, when his widow was murdered in a Honolulu hotel -- a crime quickly covered up by the almost stillborn university she had saved. Richly detailed and deeply researched, American Disruptor restores Leland Stanford's rightful place as a revolutionary force and architect of modern America.


Roland De Wolk is an investigative reporter in print, broadcast, and online journalism. He is a historian, university adjunct, and author. 

During his almost four decades in journalism De Wolk has specialized in investigative projects as well as news features, earning him most major citations in his field, including being honored by the Society of Professional Journalists with its coveted Career Achievement Award. Briefly outside of journalism, in 2014 he completed a commission by the California state Senate to investigate the huge delays and cost overruns of the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Working through and California News International, he is currently involved in several other investigations and news features.

Roland has also authored two outdoors books, published by Chronicle Books of San Francisco. De Wolk is Senior Lecturer (aka Adjunct Professor) at San Francisco State University's Journalism Department, where he has taught with distinction for 25 years.

Whether writing about politics or personalities, Phil Matier has informed and entertained readers for more than two decades about the always fascinating Bay Area and beyond. The blend of scoops, insights and investigative reporting can be found every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday in the Chronicle.


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