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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Paperback – March 30, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 457 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

''A biography that has many of the best attributes of a novel . . . Wonderfully fluent and compelling.'' --New York Times

''Ron Chernow's portrait of Rockefeller, an eccentric on a heroic scale as well as a genius, is convincing . . . This is the best biography of the man so far.'' --Washington Post Book World

''Splendid . . . A blue-chip biography.'' --Newsweek

''It is hard to imagine a better biography of Rockefeller being written . . . An enthralling biography of an enthralling person.'' --Chicago Tribune

''With uncanny timing, Ron Chernow has written a captivating biography of one of the most famous men in American business history . . . Business needs more books like Titan.'' --Newsday

''Chernow has written the definitive biographies of two other legendary financial dynasties . . . Now, with his Rockefeller biography, he has completed an extraordinary trilogy about the towering figures of twentieth-century commerce.'' --Vanity Fair

''A scrupulously balanced, frequently fascinating, and humanizing portrait of a figure of seemingly superhuman energy and ambition.'' --People

''By the time Chernow is finished, the old guy seems utterly human . . . and oddly appealing…A timeless parable of our civilization.'' --San Francisco Chronicle

''A monumental and mesmerizing biography . . . A fascinating yarn, capturing a man who insisted he could serve God and Mammon.'' --San Diego Union-Tribune

''Stunning . . . Mr. Chernow has confirmed his reputation as a great business historian.'' --Financial Times (London)

''A worthy biography of a truly titanic figure.'' --Economist (London)

''Sweeping . . . Chernow lays out the [Rockefeller] conundrum superbly, delineating the forces that shaped this man and the ways he responded to them.'' --USA Today

''[No biographer] has been as skilled, or as exhaustive, as Ron Chernow.'' --Philadelphia Inquirer

''Good biographies are hard to find and great ones even rarer . . . A thoughtful and balanced approach to one of the most significant and controversial lives of the past century . . . Spellbinding.'' --Seattle Times

''A masterful synthesis of research and writing…An extraordinary achievement in biography.'' --New Republic

''A triumph of research, understanding, and elegant writing.'' --Houston Chronicle

''What a story! An outstanding business biography.'' --New York Observer

''You can read this book as a sympathetic portrait of a complex man, a business history, a legal battle, or simply as a great yarn.'' --Businessweek

''Chernow has written the definitive biographies of two other legendary financial dynasties . . . Now, with his Rockefeller biography, he has completed an extraordinary trilogy about the towering figures of twentieth-century commerce.'' --Vanity Fair

''A scrupulously balanced, frequently fascinating, and humanizing portrait of a figure of seemingly superhuman energy and ambition.'' --People

''By the time Chernow is finished, the old guy seems utterly human . . . and oddly appealing…A timeless parable of our civilization.'' --San Francisco Chronicle

''A monumental and mesmerizing biography . . . A fascinating yarn, capturing a man who insisted he could serve God and Mammon.'' --San Diego Union-Tribune

''Stunning . . . Mr. Chernow has confirmed his reputation as a great business historian.'' --Financial Times (London)

''A worthy biography of a truly titanic figure.'' --Economist (London)

''Sweeping . . . Chernow lays out the [Rockefeller] conundrum superbly, delineating the forces that shaped this man and the ways he responded to them.'' --USA Today

''[No biographer] has been as skilled, or as exhaustive, as Ron Chernow.'' --Philadelphia Inquirer

''Good biographies are hard to find and great ones even rarer . . . A thoughtful and balanced approach to one of the most significant and controversial lives of the past century . . . Spellbinding.'' --Seattle Times

''A masterful synthesis of research and writing…An extraordinary achievement in biography.'' --New Republic

''A triumph of research, understanding, and elegant writing.'' --Houston Chronicle

''What a story! An outstanding business biography.'' --New York Observer

''You can read this book as a sympathetic portrait of a complex man, a business history, a legal battle, or simply as a great yarn.'' --Businessweek --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

From the Inside Flap

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.--history's first billionaire and the patriarch of America's most famous dynasty--is an icon whose true nature has eluded three generations of historians. Now Ron Chernow, the National Book Award-winning biographer of the Morgan and Warburg banking families, gives us a history of the mogul "etched with uncommon objectivity and literary grace . . . as detailed, balanced, and psychologically insightful a portrait of the tycoon as we may ever have" (Kirkus Reviews). Titan is the first full-length biography based on unrestricted access to Rockefeller's exceptionally rich trove of papers. A landmark publication full of startling revelations, the book will indelibly alter our image of this most enigmatic capitalist.
Born the son of a flamboyant, bigamous snake-oil salesman and a pious, straitlaced mother, Rockefeller rose from rustic origins to become the world's richest man by creating America's most powerful and feared monopoly, Standard Oil. Branded "the Octopus" by legions of muckrakers, the trust refined and marketed nearly 90 percent of the oil produced in America.
Rockefeller was likely the most controversial businessman in our nation's history. Critics charged that his empire was built on unscrupulous tactics: grand-scale collusion with the railroads, predatory pricing, industrial espionage, and wholesale bribery of political officials. The titan spent more than thirty years dodging investigations until Teddy Roosevelt and his trustbusters embarked on a marathon crusade to bring Standard Oil to bay.
While providing abundant new evidence of Rockefeller's misdeeds, Chernow discards the stereotype of the cold-blooded monster to sketch an unforgettablyhuman portrait of a quirky, eccentric original. A devout Baptist and temperance advocate, Rockefeller gave money more generously--his chosen philanthropies included the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Chicago, and what is today Rockefeller University--than anyone before him. Titan presents a finely nuanced portrait of a fascinating, complex man, synthesizing his public and private lives and disclosing numerous family scandals, tragedies, and misfortunes that have never before come to light.
John D. Rockefeller's story captures a pivotal moment in American history, documenting the dramatic post-Civil War shift from small business to the rise of giant corporations that irrevocably transformed the nation. With cameos by Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, Jay Gould, William Vanderbilt, Ida Tarbell, Andrew Carnegie, Carl Jung, J. Pierpont Morgan, William James, Henry Clay Frick, Mark Twain, and Will Rogers, Titan turns Rockefeller's life into a vivid tapestry of American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is Ron Chernow's signal triumph that he narrates this monumental saga with all the sweep, drama, and insight that this giant subject deserves.

"From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 2nd edition (March 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400077303
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077304
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (457 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,298 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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