Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. – REVIEW

by Jeremy Powers on July 14, 2010

Ron Chernow is a fantastic biographer, and I continue to believe Titan is his best book.  I have read it from start to finish several times, and I have gone back to specific chapters frequently.  To give you an idea of the book, here is part of the back cover:

” . . . 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 unforgettably human portrait of a quirky, eccentric original. A devout Baptist and temperance advocate, Rockefeller gave money more generously . . .”

(Click the image of the book to read the rest of the back cover.) 

The transformation occurring in our economy today will not be properly understood for decades.  Assuming books are still being used by the time anyone can objectively review what happened in the first decades of the twenty-first century, I sincerely hope a historian as objective, intelligent, and thorough as Chernow is available to write one.

If you only have time for one substantial book, consider Titan.  You will learn about how macroeconomics, politics, competition, and society changed during the industrial revolution.  This is a book that always seems to make its way onto my desk, end table, or front of the bookcase.  Buy it.

If you have a book that you frequently reach for, please let me know what it is in the comments.

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