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

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  13,946 ratings  ·  778 reviews
John D. Rockefeller, Sr.--history's first billionaire and the patriarch of America's most famous dynasty--is an icon whose true nature has eluded three generations of historians. Now Ron Chernow, the National Book Award-winning biographer of the Morgan and Warburg banking families, gives us a history of the mogul "etched with uncommon objectivity and literary grace . . . a ...more
Paperback, 832 pages
Published March 30th 2004 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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Camilo I am currently reading this book (as a non-American) and I found it really interesting, plus is easy to read.I do not see the necessity of…moreI am currently reading this book (as a non-American) and I found it really interesting, plus is easy to read.I do not see the necessity of understanding US history at that time so relevant and reading sub historic events will leave you curious to know more about them while you read (Civil War for example or how the oil business started).(less)
Mario Hurtado I wouldn't say it's positive or negative. It shows him to have a complex family history, a deep drive to be successful, and in many ways a ruthless…moreI wouldn't say it's positive or negative. It shows him to have a complex family history, a deep drive to be successful, and in many ways a ruthless attitude. It is meticulously researched but a good read. It's not a hagiography by any means but tries to but John D. in context.(less)

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4.19  · 
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 ·  13,946 ratings  ·  778 reviews

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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
Apr 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating account of a Gilded Age titan much worse known than Carnegie.

His charming but scheming wandering bigamist 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 advan
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
"Standard Oil had taught the American public an important but paradoxical lesson: Free markets, if left completely to their own devices, can wind up terribly unfree. Competitive capitalism did not exist in a state of nature but had to be defined or restrained by law."
- Ron Chernow, Titan


One of the great truths about America is the paradoxes built into it, almost from the beginning. It was the land of the free, but built largely on the backs of slaves. It has all the bunting of freedom, but often
Roy Lotz
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
He played golf assiduously, always alone, matching his record on one day against his record on another; just what the saints do when they daily examine their conscience... Such was probably also the interest dominating Rockefeller's chase after millions. He was beyond comparing himself with his competitors; he compared himself with himself.

—George Santayana

As a child of Sleepy Hollow, I have almost literally grown up in Rockefeller’s shadow. The best walking paths in the area are in the Rockefel
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Truly magisterial.

I came away from Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America with a thirst for more on early US industrial magnates and their corrupt shenanigans, operating in an age free of regulation, tax or indeed any interference by government, really. Is it surprising to find that under such circumstances the market does not necessarily regulate itself, and what insinuates itself into every nook and cranny is a massive all-embracing monopoly, that kills competition through ta
11811 (Eleven)
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It's only March but I suspect this will end up being my favorite book of the year. I listened to the audio - 35 hours in less than a week. That's unheard of for me, unless I'm on an obscenely long road trip but this book was exceptional. I'm not sure if I kept listening because I couldn't sleep or if I couldn't sleep because I kept listening.

Rockefeller has always been an inspiration to me in both business and personal life although we have little in common, like the fact that he was richer than
Oct 16, 2008 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.
Jun 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 18, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Max Nova
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business, history
“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
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Aaron Million
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Owen Tuleja
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Wow, this one took a lot of effort. If there's one thing this book is, it's well-researched and comprehensive. Chernow clearly spent years pouring through primary sources, conducting his own interviews, and reading the biographical attempts of other authors. You'll finish this book feeling an expert on Rockefeller, the principles that guided him, and context in which he operated.

This book is not easy to get through: it's 700 pages about one person's life... I don't care how important you are; th
Carrie Ann
Feb 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Steven Peterson
May 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sam S
Dec 31, 2014 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
Michael Huang
Rockefeller was brought up in a family with an absentee dad. His mom gave him a lot of tasks around the house and that helped him mature quickly. When he was 16 he started to work writing letters and keeping books. He also learned the way of businesses and eventually started out on his own and co-founded what would be called an oil refinery business today. He was being shrewd in negotiating transportation costs and outcompeted and bought others. This gradually led to the Standard Oil, which grad ...more
Christien Hughes
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
John D. Rockefeller was a truly a titan, but one who I knew very very little about and had honestly never given much thought about. I can’t compare it to other works about his life, but I will say this was very educational. Regardless of what people say about his business practices, he shaped the petroleum industry in this country and all over the world. His philanthropic endeavors were no less commendable. We owe our modern health system to him.

The judgements of Rockefeller are understandable,
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Having read this, I can only assume that if Chernow lives long enough he'll write some kind of "aw shucks" bio about President Trump. I even saw parallels to modern characterizations of the Trump children as "young men" in his framing of Junior. Sure, the aspirational autocrat doesn't have the whole church fixation, but I'm sure Chernow will find some kind of "gee whiz" about him eventually. This gets 2 stars because it's quite a useful overview of how they shaped the modern world. But it lacks ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-audiobooks
A fascinating and surprisingly peppy biography of Rockefeller. His charming snake-oil salesman and bigamist father, Rockefeller's own duality--the cold-blooded businessman and the pious philanthropist--and the variety of characters among his children and grandchildren form a better-than-fiction cast. I picked this book up now that I live in Cleveland, to learn more about how Rockefeller got his start here and the legacies he left behind. But I found I have other connections, too: My great-grandf ...more
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is what I took away from John D. Rockefeller, once the richest man in America and the largest benefactor of his time.

Rockefeller was an avid saver. "Save when you can, not when you have to."
He donated even when he himself did not have much. But he always calculated the amount of money he could donate and gave not a penny more or less.

Rockefeller was an avid lender. He always kept vast cash reserves. "The impression was gaining ground with me that it was a good thing to let the money be my
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened
A very comprehensive and entertaining biography on one of the love 'em or hate 'em men who built the country. A man from a meager beginning learned the value of a dime (or a nickel) from an early age, taught his children to do as he did: to save 1/3, spend 1/3, and donate 1/3 of their allowance and to keep meticulous records of where every penny went. Controversial, yes, mean-spirited and evil, not in my opinion. Chernow writes an excellent biography and even better when the subject is someone y ...more
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another 5-star tour de force biography by the masterful Ron Chernow! Like his other epic examinations of historical figures, Titan gives the reader far more than the life history of the central character, in this case John D. Rockefeller. Every person is, to some degree, a product of his or her times, and Rockefeller was certainly no exception. He lived in a time of vast unexplored lands and resources, new inventions flooding the world with advancing technologies for travel, lighting, and indust ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Entirely way too much detail for the regular human. This is very long and I did skip a large section in the middle when it was focusing mainly on the business dealings (I’m more interested in the human side of his life), but RC is a great biographer so what I did listen to (which was the majority of the book) was interesting.
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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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
“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.” 15 likes
“Rockefeller equated silence with strength: Weak men had loose tongues and blabbed to reporters, while prudent businessmen kept their own counsel.” 10 likes
More quotes…