Titan : the life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.

by Ron Chernow

Hardcover, 1998




London : Little, Brown, 1998.


A biography of America's first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., drawing from Rockefeller's personal papers to provide information about his rustic origins, his creation of Standard Oil, his often controversial business tactics, and his personal relationships and attributes.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bonford
Brilliant book--brings out the humanity behind a so-called Robber Baron without glossing over his rougher edges. Absolutely fascinating--couldn't be more highly recommended from this reader.
LibraryThing member uncultured
Thorough and surprisingly gripping, Chernow shows how Rockefeller could at once be a ruthless business tycoon while simultaneously attending prayer meetings and churches side-to-side with the most Puritanical New Englanders. Guest starring Teddy Roosevelt, muckraker Ida Tarbell (who won 1st Place in the My Name Sounds Like a 19th Century Cliche contest), Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, and Rockefeller's no-good father, who sold snake oil and other medical delights.… (more)
LibraryThing member gaeta
Ron Chernow states at the beginning of the book that he balked when he was approached to write a book about Rockefeller, declaring that he viewed his potential subject only as a nickel-giving golf-playing codger; only a tape-recorded interview revealing the tycoon to have a dry wit changed his mind. I'm not sure how well the author succeeded in revealing the "real" Rockefeller....unless the man really was rather dull. He had none of the neurosis of Carnegie nor the flamboyance of Flager. He wasn't even particularly a visionary (he had retired from active participation from Standard Oil before the automobile became crucial to American society) as he created his fortune through a ruthless undercutting of his opponents in kerosene oil distribution early in his career. His wife, initially a vibrant woman, declined into what seemed all-too typical Victorian neurasthenia; his son was dutiful to the point of being stupefying. (The author makes repeated jabs at just how dull Junior was.) Really, only Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Junior's wife and his grandson Nelson ( making an all too brief an appearance late in the book) liven things up. The details on starting up the University of Chicago are interesting, as are the chapters on his foundation's emphasis on medicine. And of course, it is a fascinating portrait of the "wild-west" days of early Big Business. In the end, however, the book goes on far too long on John D's golf playing days and his obsession to reach 100...but I'm not sure that the author could have done much about that.. Nor can he really answer the central question; did Rockefeller's refusal to change his parsimonious ways revel a man of steadfast character....or one with a cramped soul?… (more)
LibraryThing member heathweaver
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Ron Chernow is a master of the subjects that he writes about.
LibraryThing member nealbozeman
Chernow's writing style is fluid and insightful. An excellent depiction of Rockefeller's rise, his philosophies, and often, his rather puritanical family life.
LibraryThing member jmatson
This tome (almost 700 pages) attempts to reveal the life of John D. Rockefeller. Lots of interesting early stuff on Standard Oil and the onset of the oil age ala Pennsylvania and the family history, but little on the underhanded business practices on Mr. Rockefeller and the oil company he founded. Some tidbits, but no in depth information. I found it somewhat of a valentine to the oil mogul. All in all a good read, though.… (more)
LibraryThing member ibkennedy
Fascinating person and great story telling by a wonderful biographer. Ron Chernow makes me love history.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
This is the long life of Rockefeller. He got into the oil business in 1865, and by the early 1880s - a mere 15 years or so later - he owned 90% of the industry. The book rightly focuses on this early period. It also focuses on 1905-1911 when he retired and was the subject of the Ida Tarbell muck racking, and family dramas. These are the two most interesting parts because they were the great storms of his life - professional and personal - through which he steered a passage and transformation.

Rockefeller has a single-minded drive to make money, which lasts until the 1920s when he starts to loosen up and become more human suggesting an inner character development. In the 1870s, his upright religious persona bolstered his credibility with bankers allowing him to raise cash to consolidate the industry rapidly; at the same time he was gaming the system to his advantage. Put kindly, the mark of a great man is the ability to hold contradicting ideas at the same time. Not so kindly, he was more greedy and hypocritical then the rest.

I knew little about Rockefeller, and am glad to have learned so much. In balance, most of the money was put to good use - parks, health care, arts - that is the best we can hope for. Near the end, Chernow describes a scene with Rockefeller seeing no interest in yachts but weeping over the beauty of a rainstorm. Chernow didn't intend it but it's poignant - climate change will be his legacy for thousands or even millions of years.
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LibraryThing member msaucier818
Another fantastic book by one of my favorite authors Ron Chernow. I find Chernow to be the best biographer I have read. He writes in a beautiful and flowing narrative style, covers all of the appropriate history and analyzation of his topic, and obviously loves his historical person while being fair and often critical of their life. I knew next to nothing about Rockefeller outside of his being filthy rich from Standard Oil, and this book has taught me a great deal about the man, the family, and the time period in American History. As a liberal, there is a lot to his business practices to dislike, but as an American, he truly helped build the country we live in today. A great read that I would recommend to everyone who has time to read a lengthy yet rewarding biography.… (more)
LibraryThing member ddjohnson1
An interesting read. The author perhaps comes down a little too hard on Rockefeller's business practices, though some may think not hard enough. He gave the country cheap and abundant oil and gasoline, thereby growing rich. That, and not his later philanthropies, was his greatest gift to the world. Of course his great wealth made him a target of the envious.… (more)
LibraryThing member pjsullivan
Biased in favor of Rockefeller, but thorough and interesting.


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