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, a National Book Award-winning biographer, gives us a detailed and insightful history of the mogul. 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 indelibly alters 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 30 years dodging investigations until Teddy Roosevelt and his trustbusters embarked on a marathon crusade to bring Standard Oil to bay.
While providing abundant evidence of Rockefeller’s misdeeds, Chernow discards the stereotype of the cold-blooded monster to sketch an unforgettably human portrait of a quirky, eccentric original. A devout Baptist and temperance advocate, Rockefeller gave money more generously than anyone before him - his chosen philanthropies included the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Chicago, and what is today Rockefeller University. 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. P. 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 19th and early 20th centuries. It is Ron Chernow’s signal triumph that he writes this monumental saga with all the sweep, drama, and insight that this giant subject deserves.
©2004 Ron Chernow (P)2013 Blackstone Audio
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"Standard Oil had taught the American public an important but paradoxical lesson: Free markets, if left completely to their own devices, can wind up terribly unfree. Competitive capitalism did not exist in a state of nature but had to be defined or restrained by law."
- Ron Chernow, Titan
One of the great truths about America is the paradoxes built into it, almost from the beginning. It was the land of the free, but built largely on the backs of slaves. It has all the bunting of freedom, but often can act like an adolescent empire. Those same paradoxes are also found within American Capitalism AND some of America's greatest men. Rockefeller is one of those men, known for both good and evil, where it is very hard to write a biography without carrying into it A LOT of bias. Standard Oil, in some ways, is the perfect example of many of the virtues of capitalism (and the Protestant work ethic). It also contains within it, many of the vices.
Chernow is able to explore the life of Rockefeller without turning the book into a hagiography (Rockefeller paid for plenty of those) or Devil's dictionary (there were plenty of those too). He examines Rockefeller as a man, faults and brilliance combined. This isn't a perfect biography, but is definitely top shelf. It isn't even Chernow's best. I'd rank this one under Alexander Hamilton, but over Washington: A Life (Since I haven't read The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance or The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family, I'll decide later where it fits among those two). The biggest weakness, in my opinion, of this biography was the end. Chernow wanted a cradle to grave biography and delivered it. I just feel he could have cut about 100 pages from the last 15 years of Rockefeller's life. The biography became a bit less compelling after the chapters on the Rockefeller Foundation. While I think his time in Florida, giving out dimes and nickels, needed a few lines -- it just wandered a bit at the end (thus my four stars, not five).
Some of what I loved the most from this book, however, were the bits about minor satellites to Rockefeller. I loved the discussions concerning such fascinating figures as Ida Tarbell (the Jane Mayer of the early 20th Century), Frederick T. Gates (who helped Rockefeller give his money away, and invest it later in his life), JR (a whole book can be written on the relationship between Rockefeller Sr & Rockefeller Jr), the Baptists (another whole book could be written on the relationship between the Rockefellers and religion), etc. These asides alone were worth the entire price of admission.
I kept thinking as I read this of Jane Mayer's book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. It was amazing how much power Rockefeller really had. It was also amazing at how bad both the Rockefellers and Standard Oil were at public relations and politics. It seems in some ways the Kochs have learned from the mistakes of previous billionaires, but it also seems like the more things change with oil, money, and politics - the more they stay the same.
It's great when learning history is so pleasurable. If felt as if I got to know Rockefeller personally. Now I'm buying the author's other audiobooks!
I enjoy history, biographys, and nerdy/ dorky things.
The sequential steps through out JDR life. Growing up poor, to becoming the worlds wealthiest man. The book does not sugar coat JDR, not does it portray him as history's greatest villain either. He was a CEO of his time and age.
JDR. He was much more likable than I expected him to be.
Well read, nothing to complain about
No. Most biography I read don't exhibit in me a strong emotional reaction. However learning about US industry after the Civil War through WWI was very interesting
Growing up in a very liberal household names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Carnegie, ect were names of evil, money hunger villains. I was surprised to learn how generous with his wealth Rockefeller was.
Loved it. Very interesting and helped me fill some of my historical knowledge gaps. While he has his flaws, elements of his character are inspiring. Also, I'm not sure what a folksy turn of the 20th century accent would sound like, but if I had to guess it would sound something like the narrator. He fit in perfectly with the story. 5/5.
Excellent narration. Definitely too academic, after 10s of hours I'm not sure I feel I know the man. far too much on the children and offspring while I actually found it a bit lacking and shallow about the heart of his life and Standard. well worth it in sum.
This epic biography delivered a detailed and insightful look at the life of John Rockefeller Sr. The story was very engaging which made it easy to plow through the 35 hours. Delivered through its proper context in history, this was far more educational than just elucidating the enigmatic life of the Titan. I enjoyed this book in the same way that I enjoyed the biography of Steve Jobs. Highly recommend!
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