on 30 August 1999
I just finished reading this biography of one of the most influential non-political figures of American history. Mr. Chernow deserves all the critical acclaim he received for writing this; it is truly a remarkable work. At the outset, it seemed that Chernow was going to give a "polished-up" version of Rockefeller's life. However, you soon begin to see that he instead presents Rockefeller in a rather impartial light, exposing both qualities and faults with equal judgment. Mr. Chernow wonderfully intertwines the events of the day as he narrates Rockefeller's life, the life, innerworkings, and sheer dominace of Standard Oil, and the philanthropic entities that came to make Rockefeller revered by many. When the reader completes this book, he/she is able to formulate their own opinion of Rockefeller because we were given such a well-rounded, thorough, and fair presentation. If anything else, that is the essence of what a truly outstanding biography should be able to do. That is why Mr. Chernow's book is such a success and enjoyable read.
on 27 June 2008
Much in made, both in this book and in the reviews, about the apparent contradiction between Rockefeller's early career, building Standard Oil, and his later philanthropy. I felt this was an attempt to oversimplify a man who (like the rest of us) was the product of his many contradictions, and who may very possibly have persuaded himself that the steps he took in building the company were justified by the greater good.
Even with this one caveat, this is an excellent biography; well researched and very well written. Chernow is very even handed in his treatment of his subject, and it is not clear where his sympathies actually lie; he certainly does not go to either extreme as this is neither a "hatchet job" nor a hagiography.
For the reader who is interested in the lives of those who have contributed to the shape of the world we live in, or for those interested in how Rockefeller became the world's richest man at that time (perhaps ever, if you look at the wealth he gave away and compare the impact he had compared to Bill Gates) this is a very worthwhile read.
on 12 June 2008
John D. Rockefeller Sr. was probably the biggest, baddest robber baron in 19th century America, and also its leading philanthropist. Many writers scorned his ruthlessness, notably Ida Tarbell, who wrote two books on Rockefeller and his company, Standard Oil. Author Ron Chernow digs deeper, through masses of Rockefeller family documents, to present the founder of the Rockefeller dynasty as a "man of flesh and bone and soul." He covers Rockefeller's ugly, dramatic and even shameful aspects, while concurrently demonstrating his business acumen and his philanthropic leadership amid a remarkable generation of business barons, including William Randolph Hearst, Jay Gould, William Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. An amazing portrait emerges of an almost invisible, rather megalomaniac ascetic who wanted to fulfill God's will. He became extremely wealthy, gave millions away, and believed that he brought the benefit of inexpensive oil products to all mankind. getAbstract highly recommends this multifaceted biography.
on 1 June 1999
Just as Giant summed up "Oil as a film" So Titan powerfully evokes the power and dominance which JD Rockefeller brought to America's first major industry and still, one of its largest. At a time when many of the other branches of American commerce were being formulated, Rockefeller used this comparative naivety, as much in evidence in his own industry, to maximise his own advantage and sometimes punish, the lack of complexity of other industries. His grasp of how to make a margin and maximise it is breathtaking given that many of what are now accepted practices, were not even dreamt of then. This book is probably the first to show so graphically, how one man with vision, can manipulate even a country the size and complexity of America to his own ends. More importantly, Rockefeller started a dynasty which remains to this day, still one of the major forces in US commerce. The author's research of his subject has produced a fascinating read for anyone interested in power, America and oil!