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

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  20,956 ratings  ·  1,084 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 May 5th 1998)
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Guddi Reddigari Vishnu I'm not American, and the book certainly appealed to me. It's an epic business story that ought to be of interest to anyone with an interest in busine…moreI'm not American, and the book certainly appealed to me. It's an epic business story that ought to be of interest to anyone with an interest in business and entrepreneurship.(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 at…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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Chrissie
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
...more
Gwern
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
...more
Darwin8u
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

description

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 ofte
...more
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
...more
Arminius
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
·Karen·
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
...more
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
...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
This is a good book, if long. I found Rockefeller's family background interesting as well as his rise to power and wealth through a brilliant business acumen. However it got a bit monotonous listening (I had the audio version through Hoopla) how he absorbed every single competitor in the rail roads and in the oil business. Worth reading, but you need commitment to read it to the end,
aPriL does feral sometimes
Ron Chernow, a National Book award-winning author, has written a well-researched biography of the richest man in history America ever had - John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) - ‘Titan’. In today’s (2016) dollars, he was worth $21 billion (in 1913 money, $900,000,000). In other words, he was worth 2% of the United States' national economy of the time by himself.

Was he a good person? Depends on how one defines good.

Rockefeller was extremely religious for most of his life. He was a fundamentalist Bap
...more
Mahlon
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.
Alex
Aug 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Chernow starts with a bang. Rockefeller's childhood was quite unusual and I found myself reading his story with a mix of intrigue and heartbreak. The crucible would forge the man, and a titan he became indeed. His business tactics elicit either ire or awe, but observed neutrally, the rise of his empire is a brilliant case study in strategy.

Rockefeller retired at a relatively young age and became a reclusive philanthropist. He was frankly a bit uninteresting in his later years. For that, the boo
...more
Christine
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.
Amanda
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
Elyse
John D. Rockefeller didn't believe in competition. He rationalized that monopolies are the best business model because of their smoothness of operation. He started small as an oil refiner in Cleveland and progressed with his company, Standard Oil, to become the largest oil company in the world. And he didn't care who he smashed to achieve this. Really evil stuff. And he never believed he did anything wrong. I think if Jesus sat JDR (a life-long Baptist) down in a chair and explained why what he ...more
Kelley
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
Brian
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this excellent biography of John D. Rockefeller, Chernow presents a fascinating portrait of a legendary and fabulously wealthy self-made businessman who was a much more complex man than most people probably assume.

In business, Rockefeller ruthlessly dominated and eliminated competitors as he built Standard Oil into an unparalleled monopoly and accumulated great wealth. He was an exceptionally hard worker and a very astute business strategist. He was single-minded about his business and derive
...more
John Elliott
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
The story of John D. Rockefeller raises some important questions about economic policy, financial stewardship, and business leadership. He took a lot of public heat for the way he built Standard Oil, some of which was warranted. But in my opinion, much of it was not. He paid his employees fairly, gave away nearly all of his fortune to worthwhile causes, and stayed true to his principles until the day he died, just days shy of his 98th birthday. What I expected to be a cautionary tale ended up (m ...more
Clif
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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
...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
Lucky
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
...more
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
...more
Matt
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
Erin
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s a commitment, but pretty fascinating. I straight up LOL’d at Chernow describing JDR Sr’s diminutive, elderly frame as looking like he’d been shrunk by a witch doctor.
Linda
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
...more
Jig
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
his rise to power as an entrepreneur and his ability to convert every crisis into opportunity until the age of 98 is a must read for enterprising individuals.

i would definately want to reread his first 15 yrs as an entrepreneur -- the energy, creativity, and audacity of his decision making and maneuvering should be studied over and over again. His biography is magnitudes more critical than any textbook on business.

like gates, dont conflate the philantrophist with the industrialist. read thru i
...more
Samcwright
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I don’t know that most people would love this book, but I’m definitely the target audience. It’s a combination of intense focus, economics, and the unique period of U.S. history that allowed Rockerfeller to build Standard Oil. It’s a long book (#ronchernow), but worth it for me. Rockerfeller’s ability to build Standard Oil required collusion with banks, railroads, steel producers, and other oil producers and refiners. But it also required his unique personality shaped by his youth, religious bac ...more
Siim
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
...more
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
...more
dusty.rhodes
Dec 02, 2008 rated it liked it
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 contradictions. H
...more
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
...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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