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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Paperback – March 30, 2004
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“A biography that has many of the best attributes of a novel. . . . Wonderfully fluent and compelling.” —The New York Times
“A triumph of the art of biography. Unflaggingly interesting, it brings John D. Rockefeller Sr. to life through sustained narrative portraiture of the large-scale, nineteenth-century kind.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Important and impressive. . . . Reveals the man behind both the mask and the myth.” —The Wall Street Journal
“One of the great American biographies. . . . [Chernow] writes with rich impartiality. He turns the machinations of Standard Oil . . . into fascinating social history.” —Time
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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Top Customer Reviews
- It is not really a chronology. It's more of a topicology. It covers topics in a range of times. This means it jumps around a little in an area that can be a little confusing. For instance, it will cover his investments in the University of Chicago for a timeframe then go backward to cover another topic during that time frame.
- There are huge gaps in coverage of his mother and family. Maybe I missed something but I don't even remember a mention of his sister Mary.
- Rockefeller lived at one of the most exciting times in this nations history. He saw the invention of the car and of the airplane. It's hard to imagine he wasn't more than a little interested in what the Wright Brothers were doing.
- It's very hard to get a sense of his wealth. The numbers in the books seem a little inconsistent at times.
In general, I found the story of Rockefeller's life fascinating. There was nothing especially exceptional about him and yet he became the wealthiest man in the history of the world. While there is debate about this I have no doubt. Unlike today's wealthy who are paper rich (stock) Rockefeller was taking in all of his wealth in the form of untaxed dividends. At one point he was taking in the equivalent of more than $1B a year. While today's rich promise to give their money away when they die Rockefeller spent half of his life giving away as much as he could. While he got vilified throughout life I'm actually amazed at how reserved and content he was. With all of his money he theoretically could have taken over everything. He had enough money to control nearly every major industry if he wanted.
If I could have one major criticism of him it would be the way he was with his wife. She clearly had issues for a great portion of her life and yet Rockefeller still pretty much did as he wished. Perhaps that is what she wanted or perhaps it was either that or he just sat around the house and withered away too. In any, case it seems odd how much time he spends away from her during all of her troubles.
On the other hand it's absolutely remarkable the restraint he shows in dealing with his brother and children. It's amazing that the most powerful man in the world just sits by as his daughter lives in Europe and refuses to even come home for her mother's funeral.
I highly recommend this book.
Chernow's Titan as an altogether different character then I had previously imagined. The strength and character of JD Rockefeller is truly astounding no matter if you love or hate the man. Chernow provides the record and evidences to properly posit your opinion of JD Rockefeller. For me, I give JD the highest marks in genius, ingenuity and persistence of character witnessed in a time when there were no rules or comparable non-nation state paradigms to build the truly enormous enterprise.
This is long, superbly enjoyable read. I have gifted it to several associates.