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

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  7,777 Ratings  ·  430 Reviews
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

"A biography that has many of the best attributes of a novel. . . . Wonderfully fluent and compelling." --The New York Times

"A triumph of the art of biography. Unflaggingly interesting, it brings John D. Rockefeller Sr. to life through sustained narrative portraiture of the large-scale, nineteenth-century kind."--The New York Time
ebook, 832 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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Without doubt this book deserves five stars. Those five stars mean quite simply that I loved every minute spent with the book. This is my favorite by Ron Chernow. In this book there is so much more to relate to personally than when you read about an American President from a bygone era.

The book covers with great depth John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s parents, siblings, wife, children, grandchildren and all the in-laws. You follow how Sr. made his money - all those with whom he ran Standard Oil, all t
Jun 06, 2015 Arminius rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
Titan is another Ron Chernow masterpiece. Titan refers to John D. Rockefeller the oil tycoon and philanthropist. He had two qualities that may have been responsible for his great business acumen. The first was that he was a deeply religious Baptist. His belief that God would always take care of him allowed him to make, what some would consider, considerable gambles. The second quality was his reverence for money. He valued money so much that he recorded each expenditure in his personal ledger. H ...more
Jun 05, 2016 Gwern rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating account of a Gilded Age titan much worse known than Carnegie.

His charming but scheming bigamist wandering con-artist father reminds me of my old observation that a lot of very successful people seem to be high but not *too* high on the psychopathy continuum and have had difficult or abusive childhoods; while we tend to think of psychopathy as all negative, aspects of it, like its heritability, are consistent with it being a lifecycle strategy under balancing selection, indicating adv
Jan 04, 2016 Mahlon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
One of the great American Biographies. Chernow always delivers.
The Narrator Grover Gardner, has a monotone type of voice that reminds one of Jack Webb, and yet it seems like exactly the type of voice the listener needs to help them slice through these large historical tomes.
Feb 11, 2011 Christine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing biography/history lesson. This man was born to make money, obviously was good at it, but married a discrete religious woman and raised his children to be humble. 'I am so happy little John has told me what he wants for Christmas, so that I may deny him it.' Sounds harsh in our over-indulgent days, but when you see they likes of Paris Hilton and other horrifying progeny of the wealthy in the 'news', it makes you long for the days of hard work, discretion, and modesty.
Oct 10, 2015 Clif rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Titan is a titanic book about a man perfectly suited for the time at which he came to young adulthood. The discovery of oil in western Pennsylvania would have led to riches if John D. Rockefeller had not been born, but his combination of personal frugality, keen competitiveness, self-control and business acumen created a monopoly and personal wealth not matched until Bill Gates used some of the same techniques with the advent of personal computers.

Rockefeller is an interesting character and his
I know Chernow has such a great reputation as a biographer, so I don't want to be too critical. I'm also biased because I just read The Power Broker, which has to be the absolute best biography in the world and the most well-written non-fiction I've ever read. However, I was not too impressed with Chernow's writing style. He added details that were unnecessary. The Power Broker is over 1,000 pages long, but I really believe that every word served a purpose. Titan, on the other hand, seemed infla ...more
Mar 30, 2010 Lucky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. Such a fascinating person. John D. was the richest man in the world of his time and the world's first billionaire. And one only reaches such heights through dubious means; including extortion, bribes, back door deals, payroll politicians, and general cruelty to all the little fish below.
There are many reasons to demonize someone such as him, but what surprised me, was how I often found myself liking him. He was excessively frugal, never ostentatious, and extremely
Carrie Ann
Mar 12, 2010 Carrie Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
Titan was a very comprehensive biography of John D. Rockefeller - almost too comprehensive. There was a lot of repetition and approximately half the book is about the people around Rockefeller including a lot of time spent on his son and some of his business associates, but this allows for a very dynamic and complete picture of the era and Rockefeller's role in it.

The most intriguing part of this book is the deftness in which Chernow handles the dichotomy of Rockefeller's character: that such a
Nancy Burns
John D. Rockefeller Sr. is not my idea of a great dinner date.

Here is my review:
Apr 19, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
The life and times of John D. Rockefeller (Senior) are in good hands with Ron Chernow at the helm. While many will know the Rockefeller name as synonymous with money and American business acumen, Chernow seeks to provide the reader with a more thorough understanding of the man, his beliefs, and how he started a multi-generational familial investment in business and political power. In this wonderfully researched biography, Chernow explores John D Rockefeller from three primary perspectives: the ...more
Sam S
Dec 31, 2014 Sam S rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I drive a lot for my job. To pass the time on the road, I've begun to listen to audio books. I bought a subscription to, which at $15/month seemed a little steep, but has turned out to be well worth the investment. The first book I downloaded is Ron Chernow's, Titan: The of Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.. I brought up the whole thing about listening to audiobooks in the car only because, knowing myself, there is no other way I would have gotten all the way through a book like Titan ...more
Jeremy Zilkie
No doubt my love for biographies influences my enjoyment of Titan. Chernow's detailed and comprehensive view of John D. Rodkefeller's life is quite compelling. I learned much about the man that I did not know. His dual persona of a cut-throat businessman in the tumultuous area of the late 1800s combined with his unparalleled generosity and philanthropic commitment throughout his life leaves the reader wondering "who exactly is John D. Rockefeller?"

On the business side, his formation and building
Apr 14, 2013 Carole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an absolutely superb biography. I loved Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamiilton, but this was even better. Chernow is such a good writer that the weighty book reads like fiction. He could have gotten lost in the weeds in details of the complex business operations, but he was able to bring to three dimensional life the complex and reclusive personna of John D. Rockefeller Sr.

Chernow's research is broad and meticulous and he evaluates Rockefeller's astounding business success and his
Aaron Million
Jan 23, 2013 Aaron Million rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well-researched and fair biography that is wonderfully written by Chernow. Rockefeller lived a long time (1839-1937) and Chernow does an excellent job of chronicling how society changed over his lifetime and how Rockefeller helped to influence prevailing views of large corporations and wealthy businessmen. Throughout the book, Chernow deftly flushes out Rockefeller's often conflicting business moves and motives vs his ultra-religious private life. Chernow does not attempt to dissuade anyone from ...more
This is a good history/biography. Clearly written, easy to follow and well-researched.
The rub is that it focuses so much on the duality of Rockefeller that it pushes everything else to serve these ends. The contrasting of his massive philanthropy with his underhanded business tactics is constant. As is his obsession with religion with his obsession with money.
What I don't understand is why, exactly, this is treated as such an aberration. We are all studies in internal&external contradiction
Jun 10, 2009 Kelley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was interesting initially, but became more of an effort the further into it I got. Rockefeller was certainly an interesting man and his contributions to American business were highly significant. However, once the author established the type of man he was, what his contributions were, and the impact he had on society, the book became an exercise in perseverance for me. Serious students of the late industrial revolution and the rise of American and international business, may find it mo ...more
Sep 09, 2014 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read but the story gets much less interesting once John D. retires - which (unfortunately for this book) occurred not much past midway through his life. The latter parts of the book tend to deal much more with his family than with its founder, which helps. Between the narrowness of his outlook and his secretiveness, Rockefeller himself makes for a much less interesting story than the development of Standard Oil.
Steven Peterson
May 25, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exceptional biography of John D. Rockefeller. This story follows the arc of his life nicely. Great detail (no surprise to those who have read other of this author's works). If interested in Rockefeller's life, this is a terrific book to read.
Apr 01, 2014 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
The name John D. Rockefeller conjures up the birth of the oil industry and money – lots and lots of money. Even by today’s standards – pun intended – and taking into account inflation, John D. amassed a staggering fortune, (much of which he “gave away”), with his creation of Standard Oil. Titan is a very detailed, and as this reader found, a very engaging, cradle to grave biography of Rockefeller – the good, the bad, the ugly – and wildly contradictory.

Rockefeller was a fervent Baptist; he neith
Jan 04, 2015 Tirath rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The advent of big oil, big philanthropy, and good health?
A very nice biography - delves deep into the man's childhood, progeny and his own life.

Great to note how much of his wealth he gave away
How much his wealth would have grown to if he retained his stake in the fragments of the erstwhile standard oil
His troubled relations with his father, with his brother; his desire to become great or was it... just the pursuit or path?

Another thing that really stood out was how much he cared for his health
Mar 04, 2013 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I"m reminded of the Yogi Berra quote "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." Rockefeller did just that over and over and over...
Jul 01, 2015 Salim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ten things I learned in this book:
1) Rockefeller supported education, universities and opportunities for women & minorities: funded Spellman college e.g.; Founded University of Chicago;
2)JDR Jr.'s wife started NY's Museum of Modern art, and in fact demolished two ROckefeller residences to create the Museum
3) John D. ROckefeller Jr. financed the building of Colonial Williamsburg, national parks in Maine and Jackson Hole...the family loved nature and preservation despite being the largest ind
This quote sums up the book nicely I think:
just as the muckrakers were teaching the public that Rockefeller was the devil incarnate, he was turning increasingly to philanthropy. What makes him so problematic—and why he continues to inspire such ambivalent reactions—is that his good side was every bit as good as his bad side was bad. Seldom has history produced such a contradictory figure. We are almost forced to posit, in helpless confusion, at least two Rockefellers: the good, religious man an
Max Nova
Nov 09, 2014 Max Nova rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, business
“Titan” by Chernow is one of the most surprising books I’ve read in a long time. From Rockefeller’s personal life (he was super religious and his dad was a bigamist?!) to Standard Oil business practices (the board made decisions only by consensus?!) and Rockefeller’s far-reaching impact on philanthropy (he pioneered rigorous philanthropy and created UChicago, Rockefeller University, Spelman, AND ELIMINATED HOOKWORM IN THE US SOUTH?!), Titan was a revelation.

Chernow does a fantastic job of tracin
Aaron Kleinheksel
Apr 26, 2014 Aaron Kleinheksel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I became interested in J.D.R. through my interest in early automotive history. I was curious about Standard Oil, its rise and eventual dismantling, as well as that time period in American History overall (the Gilded Age), to include technology, economic / business, and societal. I felt I couldn't go wrong reading a book on the most famous / infamous tycoon of them all. Chernow has written what I believe to be the most recent, thorough, and mostly even-handed review of Rock Sr's life. I am not so ...more
Kristopher Chavez
This was the first Ron Chernow book I ever read and was impressed by the amount of research it must have taken for him to paint such a clear picture of the life and habits of JDR, Sr. The book satisfied my curiosity on how a man born into relatively modest circumstances used his work ethic and shrewdness to quickly rise to the be the most powerful industrialist of his time. What I found particularly interesting about Rockefeller was how his belief in habits shaped his rise to power. He was a man ...more
David Kudlinski
Jan 19, 2013 David Kudlinski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best and most interesting books I’ve read on any subject. Rockefeller’s rise from poverty to the richest man in the world was amazing. Yet his great accomplishments are tainted by questionable ethical conduct. He was likely the most conservative, union-busting, Bible- thumping Republican in American history - the “good” Rockefeller gave billions of dollars of his fortune to fund education and medical research, which saved thousands of lives. But in order to make those billions ...more
Mark Ruzomberka
Jun 25, 2012 Mark Ruzomberka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first saw this book sitting on the shelves at the Penn State Great Valley Branch campus in 2007 when I was studying for the GMAT. The sheer size of the book was what caught my eye on the shelf. It really is a behemoth of a text. "Who in their right mind reads something like that", I thought. After getting through the Creature from Jekyll Island this was next in my series of 500+ page books. On the advice I was given to study some of the classic books and men of history I figured why not get to ...more
I became more interested in this time period and the oil/railroad industry after watching there will be blood, which touches briefly on standard oil and their desire to buy out smaller competitors in the oil/refinery business...

john d. rockefeller's biography, creator of standard oil and philanthropist...

early years in new york, ohio, the forging of his personality through the twin influences of his wandering, flim flam father and prudent, strict and religious mother.

baptist religious influences
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Ron Chernow was born in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating with honors from Yale College and Cambridge University with degrees in English Literature, he began a prolific career as a freelance journalist. Between 1973 and 1982, Chernow published over sixty articles in national publications, including numerous cover stories. In the mid-80s Chernow went to work at the Twentieth Century Fund ...more
More about Ron Chernow...

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“Success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth closed” and “A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds.” 5 likes
“Rockefeller equated silence with strength: Weak men had loose tongues and blabbed to reporters, while prudent businessmen kept their own counsel.” 2 likes
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