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Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller Hardcover – March 17, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Investigative journalist Weinberg (Armand Hammer: The Untold Story) briskly recounts the story of the rise of the Standard Oil monopoly in the late 19th century and muckraking reporter Ida Tarbell's role in bringing it down. The book is a study in opposites: John D. Rockefeller used his enormous wealth to establish the staid, stable family life he had lacked as a youngster. Tarbell—raised in bourgeois stability, intellectually ravenous and interested in the women's movement from an early age —resisted women's traditional domestic role. Wishing to help address society's problems, Tarbell was lured into magazine writing, where she developed what Weinberg calls her trademark tone of controlled outrage. In her articles on Standard, published just after the turn of the 20th century in McClure's and then in book form, she amassed evidence that Rockefeller engaged in unfair competition and argued forcefully that all Americans should be concerned with business ethics. Her reporting helped create the modern genre of investigative journalism, and the author's brief references to Wal-Mart and contemporary journalism suggest that he hopes this engaging account—a likely pick for journalism classes—can help inspire more reporters to follow in Tarbell's footsteps. 16 pages of illus. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


As a journalistic icon, Tarbell serves as both a high water mark for effective journalism and a sobering reminder of the limited power of the pen. — Tom Abate (San Francisco Chronicle)

Should be required reading in every newsroom in America. — Kitty Kelley, author of The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty

The perfect marriage of author and subject. — David Maraniss, author of They Marched Into Sunlight

A story that ought to thrill any investigative reporter. — Michael Kazin (Washington Post)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (March 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049350
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #504,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Gusfield on April 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Steve Weinberg, one of America's most accomplished Journalism professors, has taken a "busman's holiday," in writing this fascinating and beautifully researched book. Weinberg, an inspiration to several generations of University of Missouri students, has written about one of his own heroes who no doubt helped influence his rather prestigious academic pathway. He has most satisfyingly delved into the epic battle of a single, brilliant young woman who successfully defined the power of the free press in 1904, pioneering investigative journalist Ida Tarbell who "muckraked" up the expensive and deep sediment underneath Standard Oil, standing alone against the awesome wealth and power of John D. Rockefeller.
Prof. Weinberg is as complete and intimate with his subject as any historian. Infused into this book is his profound sense of appreciation of the fierce, burning integrity and inspirational relentlessness of Ida Tarbell. He makes an excellent case for her monumental, fearless work "The History of the Standard Oil Company," as being the greatest work of investigative journalism ever written. The rich and world-saving traditions of the press in the twentieth century in many ways find their roots in Tarbell and her publisher Samuel McClure, who proved that the battle armor of a democratic society is its free press; without it, the people live in the dark.
This book will give the reader a completely refreshed pride in discovering that history can be riveting. In addition, it holds tremendous insight into the late-nineteenth century roots of the women's movement for equal rights, as well as the revolution for the rights of America's workers at the hands of monopolistic, big business. Ida Tarbell will become one of your new heroes.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a sort of biography/history of Ida Tarbell and John Rockefeller. It was quite interesting and well written.

One issue I had is that only about 50 pages of the book discusses the articles written by Ms. Tarbell about Rockefeller, which is what the book is supposedly about. The rest of the book discusses the lives of the two before the articles came about. The section of the book devoted to the "confrontation" should have been longer and discussed more detail about the articles she wrote.

Another issue of note is that while the early life of John Rockefeller is discussed equally with Ms. Tarbell at the beginning, the focus shifts almost entirely to Ms. Tarbell. There is no almost no discussion of Mr. Rockefeller's later life.

That said, the book is entertaining and provides good insight into the developments occurring during the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
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Format: Hardcover
Some journalists revel in muckraking reportage, and it doesn't make any difference to them that "muckraking" has been used as a term of opprobrium. There was a time when there was no tradition of newspapers doing investigative reporting; that tradition had to be invented. One of the inventors was Ida Tarbell who let the nation know how John D. Rockefeller was misusing corporate power. She didn't like to be called a muckraker, although she was in favor of reform, and the term had been coined by reform-minded Teddy Roosevelt. She resented that the term stuck to her, but it continues to do so. Rockefeller resented that her portrait of his abusive practices stuck to him, but it continues to do so. Tarbell was a journalistic innovator who deserves to be well known for her historic contributions to reporting and to society, and in _Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller_ (Norton) by Steve Weinberg, the story is told in absorbing detail. The book is supposed to tell the story of both main characters, but Weinberg is a reporter himself and can be excused for making Tarbell the star. She is, anyway, a lot more interesting than Rockefeller who didn't have much going for him except for the capacity to make lots of money, the same as many robber barons of the time. Tarbell never had anything close to the money or influence that Rockefeller had, but she won the contest between them, and she was the one proved right after all.

Tarbell shared her family's distrust of Standard Oil. Her father, and later her brother, became independent oil producers, and neither of them sold out to Standard Oil. Plenty of others did; Rockefeller swallowed up competitors and, as he pointed out, the smart ones took Standard Oil stock and became very rich indeed.
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Format: Hardcover
I got this book based on its title. And, based on the title, was teribly disappointed. Did some marketing dude change the title from "A Biography of Ida Tarbell" to something they thought would sell better?

As a gereral biography of Ida Tarbell it is a pretty good book.

But what is sadly lacking is any information on the process she used and the people she spoke with in creating her articles on Standard Oil. There is no mention about her speaking to anyone, by name, in the oil region. The lack of detail in this section of the book, again with this title, is just astounding. What is also lacking is further information on her family's situation and how that affected her attitude toward Standard Oil. Again, there is so little information in the book in this area.

I am afraid to say that I would not recommend this book to anyone that is looking for information on Ida Tarbell and Standard Oil.
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