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

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  5,543 ratings  ·  287 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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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
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.
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
Nancy Burns
John D. Rockefeller Sr. is not my idea of a great dinner date.

Here is my review:
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
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
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
Sam S
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
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
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
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...
Aaron Kleinheksel
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
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
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
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
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
Carrie Ann
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
I just realized that I had not added this. It is a terrific business biography, but a prolific writer of such bios (House of Morgan). It combines a detailed and balanced account of JDR (both numerous good and bad points) with some fascinating description and analysis of some of the business techniques that built Standard Oil and generated Rockefeller's long shadow. One wonderful example concerns the pricing model he used with the railroads that sought to carry his oil - an approach that can be s ...more
This was a serious tome! It was a slow read, but was fascinating. The author did a good job of blending Rockefeller's personal life with his business life. We tend to associate his wealth with oil & gas, but it was kerosene which was used for lighting. It is also important to read because the monopoly that was broken up by the government was nothing compared to today's monopolies. Evidently, the govertment rules he ran afoul of are no longer in place. Read the book while comparing Standard O ...more
Dec 12, 2014 Linda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: Bill
Long, but really interesting book about the head of the Rockefeller family who earned enough money to boggle the richest person's mind. He earned billions of dollars at a time when one million would set one for life.
Ably narrated by one of my favorites, Grover Gardner, this book was especially interesting to me for its venues including Ohio (Toledo and Cleveland) and New York City that I am very familiar with.
The book is primarily about John D., but, as it should, gives background of his parents
As I wrote in one of my status updates this book is Ron Chernow at his best! Okay, it took me nearly two years to read it, but that's only because of its length. And that's the only drawback I can think of. The book is very, very well researched. It provides a thourough overview of Rockefeller Sr.'s life and work. Chernow manages to convey a unique insight in Rockefeller's thinking paired with interesting backround information about his times. To achive his goal the author not only describes the ...more
John H
Perhaps JDR's most important legacy is his financial discipline which remains a core business principle and competitive advantage in today's SOC.
Just fascinating! The man's background, his early career, his faith, his family life, his assumed internal struggles, his rise to world's wealthiest man, his stresses, his philanthropies, his retirement, the struggles of his descendants, his changing public personna ... just fascinating! I'm sure most of us have never met a person like John D. Rockefeller, and it was quite difficult to decide whether I liked him or was merely astonished by him. He lived so long, he went through many changes in h ...more
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
An excellent biography of John D. Rockefeller, Senior, the head of Standard Oil and the richest man in American history. He made his money before anti-trust laws or income tax, and could have bought or sold Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

Rockefeller was paradoxical. On one hand he was a ruthless, cunning, greedy businessman who broke laws right and left, squashed his competitors like bugs, lied to courts, and bribed legislators. On the other hand he was always polite and considerate to his employe
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.
Michael Thimsen
I have been putting this biography off for years. I always knew that it was a "must read" for many reasons; including the fact that it won numerous awards, the author is an accomplished biographer of financial titans, and the book would offer me a further opening to peer into the the early 20th century.
I also thought, "why read a book about a cheating oligarch"? Well, I'm glad that I finally opened my mind and stopped my procrastinating because this book is indeed a masterpiece. Mr. Chernow is
Vincent Ketchie
The author was very thorough in providing the background to Rockfeller's very black and white thinking. Chernow described Rockfeller's awkward relationship to his father and his adherence to his mother which explains much of his strong-willed thinking. I found it very interesting how Rockfeller was so responsible and so well respected at such a young age that he was trusted by the banks with so much money. Because of his positive characteristics, he is one of the only persons who would have been ...more
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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
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“At a time when moguls vied to impress people with their possessions, Rockefeller preferred comfort to refinement. His house was bare of hunting trophies, shelves of richly bound but unread books, or other signs of conspicuous consumption. Rockefeller molded his house for his own use, not to awe strangers. As he wrote of the Forest Hill fireplaces in 1877: “I have seen a good many fireplaces here [and] don’t think the character of our rooms will warrant going into the expenditures for fancy tiling and all that sort of thing that we find in some of the extravagant houses here. What we want is a sensible, plain arrangement in keeping with our rooms.”3 It took time for the family to adjust to Forest Hill. The house had been built as a hotel, and it showed: It had an office to the left of the front door, a dining room with small tables straight ahead, upstairs corridors lined with cubicle-sized rooms, and porches wrapped around each floor. The verandas, also decorated in resort style, were cluttered with bamboo furniture. It was perhaps this arrangement that tempted John and Cettie to run Forest Hill as a paying club for friends, and they got a dozen to come and stay during the summer of 1877. This venture proved no less of a debacle than the proposed sanatorium. As “club guests,” many visitors expected Cettie to function as their unlikely hostess. Some didn’t know they were in a commercial establishment and were shocked upon returning home to receive bills for their stay.” 0 likes
“For this boy destined to be the world’s greatest heir, money was so omnipresent as to be invisible—something “there, like air or food or any other element,” he later said—yet it was never easily attainable.11 As if he were a poor, rural boy, he earned pocket change by mending vases and broken fountain pens or by sharpening pencils. Aware of the rich children spoiled by their parents, Senior seized every opportunity to teach his son the value of money. Once, while Rockefeller was being shaved at Forest Hill, Junior entered with a plan to give away his Sunday-school money in one lump sum, for a fixed period, and be done with it. “Let’s figure it out first,” Rockefeller advised and made Junior run through calculations that showed he would lose eleven cents interest while the Sunday school gained nothing in return. Afterward, Rockefeller told his barber, “I don’t care about the boy giving his money in that way. I want him to give it. But I also want him to learn the lesson of being careful of the little things.” 0 likes
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