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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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Probably the biggest question about Rockefeller is where on the spectrum of good to evil he falls, and I think Chernow paints as sympathetic a picture as possible, doing a good job of getting beneath how the press betrayed him.
For me, the most fun part of Rockefeller's life to read about was the last stage where he more or less became a happy go lucky "codger" (as Chernow calls him), though I have a feeling that Chernow's research on his early life and how his early life pervades the rest of his life is probably Chernow's most important contribution to posterity. The most exciting part of the book was obviously how Rockefeller got his start.
Picking up the story after Rockefeller's death, I started to read the life memoire of David Rockefeller, written in 2003. Chernow actually spoke with David before writing Titan. Curiously, the chapters in David Rockefeller's memoire that deal with his father (Junior) and grandfather (Senior), published 7 years after Chernow's book came out, almost seem lifted from Chernow's book. There's almost nothing written solely on Jr, except a bio by Raymond Fosdick. (Fosdick was closely associated with Junior for 40 years.) Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (Junior's wife) also seems interesting (she is responsible for the MoMA), and there is a bio of her by Bernice Kert. I can't wait till the spring to visit Kykuit!
The research was top rate, and the book read effortlessly. I had a hard time putting the book down. The only problem I had was that the Kindle version footnote links did not work.