48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Difficult to imagine how it could be done better,
This review is from: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (Vintage) (Paperback)
I'm currently working my way through the list of twenty books Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett's partner) recommends in the second edition of Poor Charlie's Almanack (very highly recommended). Thus, I am reading books I frankly wouldn't otherwise be (which I'm feeling increasingly sure reflected poorly on me) and I therefore feel somewhat less certain about my opinions. For example, I've read very few biographies and so it's harder for me to compare it to others.
With that caveat, I do read a lot, and I know an excellent book when I come across one - and Titan (2nd edition, 2004, 679 pages) is first rate. The author has clearly done a staggering amount of research, writes well and clearly and is admirably even-handed in his approach (so much as one can tell without reading the background material oneself). I think these are probably the three key factors in producing a biography and it is difficult to find fault in his approach to any of them.
Rockefeller comes across as a fascinatingly strange mixture of cold hearted and genial, a hyper-religious bandit who was convinced that his was God's work even when it involved political bribery and industrial espionage on a grand scale. I found it particularly interesting that he was not considered in any way remarkable in his abilities whilst at school - it appears his success was mainly due to his utterly relentless approach and self-discipline. There are many other interesting subtexts that emerge through the book, such as the enormous difficulty in preventing great wealth from destroying family relations.
My approach to reading my way through Munger's list is to devote an hour to reading each day before I do anything else (I found that was the only way to ensure it got done). Towards the end of Titan I realised that I found it more interesting than the (good) thriller I was reading and I suspect that is the final accolade. The excerpt from the New York Times review quoted on the front of Titan describes it as `A biography that has many of the best attributes of a novel....". So this is a book where you really can have your cake and eat it: you get to learn without giving up any time from entertainment. Highly recommended.
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Initial post: 23 Jan 2013, 23:54:09 GMT
I find Titan as a fitting companion to Alfred Sloan's My Years with General Motors. Whereas the former tells you the rise of JDR's corporation, Standard Oil, and the latter on how to build like one.
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