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

af Ron Chernow

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1,896236,402 (4.21)17
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.

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Viser 1-5 af 23 (næste | vis alle)
I liked it. Chernow uses lots of primary material, giving the biography realism and letting us often hear the voices of John D and the people of his world. It was an especially good choice for me to read while the kids and I study the gilded age and though at first I was taken aback by the volume's length, I don't see how Chernow could have done his subject justice without covering everything he did. ( )
  mullinstreetzoo | Feb 12, 2021 |
Massive biography about a man that lived for a long time. Born in the 1830s, died in the 1930s, John D. Rockefeller lived through the American industrial and commercial revolution.

Although the man is clearly fascinating, anyone trying to document it is in over his head, and that I think summarizes this book quite well. The author tries to describe a man that both changed over time and was extremely careful and selective with private information. In a way I'm sure that the author succeeds better than others but it's still far from the full picture.

Nowadays Rockefeller is mostly known for philanthropy. Many things (institutions, buildings) over the world, but especially in the USA, carry his (and his dynasty's) name. The source of that wealth is not as nice though. By pooling with the railroads and other parties he managed to create an efficient oil business and monopoly just as oil became very important (first for kerosene and lubrication, later as fuel for motor vehicles), and to protect it, he used any possible means, save direct violence, to remove competitors. Without a doubt he would be a major economic villain in a modern world, put away in the deepest dungeons, but this was before current business laws so at most we can call him deeply unethical.

Up against his dark side you also see his background as a religious fanatic and puritan. Contradicting, yes, absolutely, and the author argues, and I believe him, that he managed to rationalize every bad deed with some greater good. As the fanatic he was, he had no trouble seeing himself as a higher power, allowed to play with people's life. (Fanatic is my word, I don't think the author ever used it.)

Exactly how involved John D. Rockefeller was can never be said since he relatively quickly distanced himself from the dirty deeds by appointing henchmen and avoid avoided all hard copies of information and decisions and instead relied on oral agreements. Not that people thought he was innocent, but as he was also a good actor (first in hearings and courts, later in personal movies) so it was hard to get anything to stick.

Listening to the author the economic side is well-covered and a not very interesting aspect of his life and he instead seems to try to focus on charities, gifts and John D. Rockefeller's relationship with his siblings, parents, wife, children and grand children. For this he replays events from various angles which means that eventually the book becomes rather repetitive as well as confusing since the time span moves back and forth. Keeping track of in what order things happen is very hard and I think the author made a big mistake in not focusing harder on the chronology. By seeing the order of the events it is easier to form an idea on why things happened.

A large potion of the book is also exclusively focused on his only son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. (called Junior), for which there apparently is much more material but who is also much less interesting as he mainly just handled trusts and charities and did almost nothing controversial in his whole life (the one exception, the Massacre at Ludlow, gets a lot of pages).

Massive as it is, this biography was a rather disappointing read, made worse by its size. I wanted to know more about what made John D. Rockefeller uniquely successful and that is a question completely avoided and absolutely not answered. If I want to read about troubled relationships inside a family there are millions of stories (fictional and non-fictional) to choose from. I also ended up not liking John D. Rockefeller very much. In the end he did a lot of good for american education and medicine, but that was more a factor of him channeling immense amounts of dirty money than his own achievements.

As the richest man in the "world" (USA), he was preceded by Commodore Vanderbilt and it was reading the Commodore biography that triggered this read. They couldn't have been more different. Where Commodore Vanderbilt was a hands-on man that was deeply involved in every-day-affairs until he died, with a lot of honor and a lot of visible human emotions, John D. Rockefeller was a calculating businessman which happened to be able to exploit one of the largest business opportunities in modern history (oil) with his success as proof to himself that he was heavenly sent.

I like Commodore Vanderbilt.
I don't like John D. Rockefeller.
I don't like this biography very much.
Next read of a biography will not happen any time soon... ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
Wow, this is a fabulous listen (audio book) . Never a dull moment, Chernow has done the incredible, made a tyrants long life exciting and stunning, while still showing what an absolute scum Rockefeller was. Maybe Chernow can do trump's life, he might be able to make it readable (instead of wanting to tear my head off).

Audiobook note :excellent narrator ( )
  marshapetry | Oct 16, 2020 |
Rockefeller Snr, John D (Subject)
  LOM-Lausanne | Apr 30, 2020 |
A few years ago I read Chernow's "House of Morgan" and absolutely loved it. In looking for something similar, I came across this.

Commentators have evoked parallels between the Gilded Age and our current time—both are times of growing wealth inequality and monopolistic behavior. For these reasons, now is a fitting time to study the life of the most prominent Robber Baron.

This book methodically covers more than a century of American history—starting with John's father Bill, and ending with his grandchildren. Rockefeller has been considered the wealthiest person in modern history (with an estimated wealth of $300 - $400 billion).

There are also many differences between the Guilded Age and our time now. Standard Oil ran a profit starting in its first year, when there are many "Unicorns" (billion dollar startups) that still haven't turned a profit. Stock valuation is now far more important than dividends in the current business paradigm. Also, Rockefeller made much of his money in an era before income tax and gift tax.

Although Standard Oil defined modern corporate law, it did so by forcing political power to shift from the state to the federal level. You could say there are parallels today with political power shifting from the national to the global level (although I hope we're not about to instate some kind of one world government).

You may have heard of the anti-trust era inspired by Standard Oil. What many don't know is that it was illegal for corporations to own assets across state lines during the late 1800s, so Standard Oil flouted the spirit of the law from the beginning. In other words, the core premise of Standard Oil's monopoly was illegal from the start—it's just that government didn't have the power to enforce these laws against such a behemoth until the early 1900s. Additionally, even with Ida Tarbell's notorious revelations, it wasn't until much more recently the full scope of Standard Oil's collusion was realized.

To get a bit into Rockefeller's biography:
* John started lending money to his dad at the age of 15
* John was an accountant, first and foremost
* His father forbid him to attend college, so he started his career at 17
* He went into business with a $1,000 loan from his father (the equivalent of somewhere in the ballpark of $1m today).
* He was a Baptist and temperance advocate
* He founded the University of Chicago, a Baptist school
* His father had a second wife/family, and had been indicted on rape charges
* He partially retired by the age of 50 to devote his life to philanthropy
* He began his giving at 6% of income per year at the age of 17, and went up from there ($550 million over his lifetime—many billions in today's dollars)
* In his 60s he lost all of his hair
* He lived to the age of 97

Rockefeller had a superiority complex that did not help his public relations efforts. He went to church every Sunday. He didn't drink, smoke, dance, or even patronize the arts. Rather than a means, in Rockefeller's cosmology, money is an end. To illustrate this point, it is worth citing the comments of a colleague; "I think you like money better than anything else in the whole world, and I do not. I like to have a little fun along with business as I go through life" (page 65).

I find a number of wealth people today still fall into similar pitfalls. Can extreme wealth inequality ever be justified? This is a core ethical question behind individuals like Rockefeller and the paradigms they perpetuate.

Rockefeller was a pioneering philanthropist and a devout Baptist, but might we have been better off if this wealth had never pooled in the first place? This gets us into questions of the concentration of power (and the reliance on power for the psychology and self-esteem of the ruling class).

Although it might come as a surprise to us today, there was massive backlash against not only Rockefeller's capitalism, but also his philanthropy. Anarchist and a different breed of left-wing populism held far more political power during the Gilded Age (which doesn't bode well for the fascist-bent of political power today).

Lastly, I'll mention Rockefeller's line that he was about "cooperation over competition." Monopolies are never cooperative. Their context is competitive; they crush their competition. Rockefeller's use of the word "cooperation" is like saying the Jews "cooperated" with the Nazis—it is deeply offensive, and relies on coercion and massive imbalances of power. Living systems are never dominated by one way of doing things. Only authoritarian approaches ever achieve 100% adoption. ( )
  willszal | May 23, 2019 |
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To my brother, Dr. Bart Chernow, who pulled me back, at the last moment, from the brink, and to the lovely Valerie
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In the early 1900s, as Rockefeller vied with Andrew Carnegie for the title of the world's richest man, a spirited rivalry arose between France and Germany, with each claiming to be Rockefeller's ancestral land.
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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.

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