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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Paperback – September 7, 1999

4.6 out of 5 stars 460 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

The patrician accent of George Plimpton (author of Truman Capote and The X Factor), with its edge of aristocracy and money, is perfectly suited for telling the rags-to-riches story of America's most famous businessman and philanthropist. Indeed, Plimpton seems to positively relish the superlatives that describe the life of John D. Rockefeller, who was far and away one of the most calculating, secretive, competitive, merciless, and talented figures ever to dominate the free market. Showing, early on, his keen attachment to hard work and keeping accounts, Rockefeller started out as an accountant in Cleveland. From there he went into the produce business, and then on to oil. By the time he was 31, he was the most powerful oil refinery owner in the world. His strategies for suppressing competition and controlling all aspects of the oil business while still paying attention to the smallest details make for dramatic listening in this well-documented and accessible narrative. Plimpton recounts how Rockefeller was the ultimate clutch player, calm in the face of adversity, a manager who was constantly searching for talented people and another way to grow Standard Oil into a megalithic modern corporation. Ultimately his rapacious business practices would make him head of the most powerful monopoly in America and the richest man in the world. Plimpton's engrossing reading of Titan brings out the human side of Rockefeller, a man of contradictions who was greedy yet giving, a capitalist villain and a do-gooder. A teetotalling Baptist, he began giving to charity when he was earning just a few dollars a week. As his wealth grew, so too his financial gifts. In the end, Rockefeller's philanthropic acts rivaled the precedents he set as a businessman. The oil baron died just short of his last goal--to reach the age of 100--but the indelible imprint he made on America's financial landscape will live on into the 21st century. (Running time: six hours, four cassettes) --A.E.D. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

National Book Award-winner Chernow's balanced account of Rockefeller Sr.'s life is artfully read by George Plimpton. Billionaire, Standard Oil mogul, and powerbroker, Rockefeller had his start in rural New York State where his upbringing was frugal, at best. Young John showed an aptitude for math and an early understanding of business practices. His mother instilled in him a strong moral and religious conviction, which influenced and colored his long life. Oil was, at first, a sideline in Rockefeller's commodities partnership, but by the turn of the century, it had made him wealthy and infamous. Philanthropy made his name a household word and claimed an increasing amount of time in his later life. Access to the Rockefeller archives contributed to Chernow's success in rounding out the picture of Rockefeller's public and private life. Recommended.?Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Lib., Providence
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 774 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679757031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679757030
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (460 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Zubair Khan on March 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
Ron Chernow's Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is a powerhouse from beginning to end. Chernow is fast becoming one of my favorite biographers after reading Alexander Hamilton and now this. In both books, he is able to keep you turning the page while, at the same time, building carefully rendered portraits of these complex historical figures.

In Titan, he is at his best, describing Rockefeller as both a great philanthropist and also a man possessed by greed. Chernow's Rockefeller can be as consumed by creating a great Baptist University [University of Chicago] as building tactical alliances that will squeeze out any hope of competition for his company, Standard Oil.

With his first brush stroke, Chernow paints the picture of Rockefeller's father a mountebank, philanderer and a bigamist. From meager beginnings, it is amazing to see the determination with which Rockefeller builds himself up. Rockefeller's ability to move so rapidly from a life of destitution and failure to one of unparallelled wealth and success is built with clear precision though at a dizzying pace.

Chernow's decision to focus so heavily on Rockefeller's father in the beginning of the book is important because the man Rockefeller becomes is a repudiation of everything his father stood for. The son in this case knew what a scoundrel his father was and acted in every way to become everything he was not. The father was a philnaderer, while the son remained devoted to his one wife even when he had become wildly successful. As the father placed his own interests ahead of his family's needs, the son put his family ahead of everything else.
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Format: Paperback
As a frequent visitor to New York, I'd often wondered who the "Rockefeller" of the Rockefeller Plaza was, and how he made his fortune. I bought this book with an air of caution, as biographies of highly successfull people can be biased either towards patronising hero-worship, or venomous character assasination. I needn't have worried, as Ron Chernow's extensive, thorough and even-handed book portrays not only JDR's progress through and beyond his 98 years, but also America's consequent development.
The personal conflict between hard-edged business practices and religious ethics are deftly portrayed, and left for the reader to decide wether or not Rockefeller was trying to bring stability and structure to a highly unpredictable market place, or being an un-controllable corporate steam-roller.
The book is not just a study of the incredible business career of John D Rockefeller. To take us some of the way towards understanding the individual, Ron Chernow allows time to give a fascinating look at the early days of not only the parents and grandparents, but also the life styles and factors from before his birth that would so influence the life of JDR. The book covers the years of philanthropy showing how a vast fortune in the right hands can be used effectively.
It's an excellent book, well researched and well written. I learned a great deal from it, and have a tremendous respect for not only the subject of the book, but also the author. I'd recommend "TITAN" to everyone.
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Format: Paperback
I have to be honest, I did not pick up and read Ron Chernow's Titan because I was burning to read a biography about John D. Rockefeller. I read Titan because I had just recently finished reading Ron Chernow's biography on Alexander Hamilton. In reading Titan, I hoped I would be getting a work similar to Alexander Hamilton, namely the quality of Chernow's prose and the rendering of his subject. Titan exceeded my expectations on all counts.

Chernow has an incredible ability to not only tell the story of a man, but to also tell the story of the times in which the man lived and, in so doing, place his subject squarely within his time. In telling the story of Rockefeller, Chernow is telling the story of America for the nearly 100 years Rockefeller was alive and living in America.

In rendering Rockefeller, Chernow gives us a full portrait of the man - both good and bad and never delivers a verdict on either. Instead, Chernow leaves it to the readers to draw their own conclusion on the man. In so doing, the reader is forced to confront the legacy left by Rockerfeller the Robber Barron with the legacy left by Rockefeller the philanthropist.

One conclusion though, that is implied in the text (if not overtly stated) is that had Rockefeller died during the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust in 1911, the judgement of history probably would have ignored Rockefeller's charitable contributions and condemned him outright. Instead, Rockefeller lived until 1937 during which time he garnered acclaim for his philanthropy. It also certainly did not hurt that Rockefeller's son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. would do so much to secure his father's place as America's foremost philanthopists as well as rehabilitate his father's Robber Barron image.

In short, if you like John D.
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