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Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  163 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Long before the rise of mega-corporations like Wal-Mart and Microsoft, Standard Oil controlled the oil industry with a monopolistic force unprecedented in American business history. Undaunted by the ruthless power of its owner, John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), a fearless and ambitious reporter named Ida Minerva Tarbell (1857–1944) confronted the company known simply as “Th ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know - Ida Tarbell may now be first in-line (ahead of Nellie Bly, reporter) for my all time heroine! What an amazing, dynamic woman. This book reads like someone telling the story of today's social and economic disruptions - except it's about Standard Oil.

If you were ever muddled about the "Progressive Era", this book will clear all those cobwebs. The book starts off slow with the back and forth between Tarbell's and Rockefeller's early childhood but it really picks up steam as it goes
Jun 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading about what a skilled journalist , historian, and writer Ida Tarbell was, as well as learning about all the methods she used in her greatest work, her expose of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil.

The book follows both Tarbell and Rockefeller throughout their lives and the era they lived in; one of growing corporate monopolies (known as "trusts") but also a time of increasing muckraking by journalists.

While I knew a bit about Rockefeller's background and Cleveland connections,
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book took a topic that I had next to no familiarity with and made it a page-turner. To be honest, I definitely "judged this book by its cover" and figured that this would be an educational but dry read, worthwhile because of its information but not necessarily good for much entertainment value. I am glad to say that this was not true at all, as Weinberg was very good at intertwining the stories of Tarbell and Rockefeller through narrative and alternating chapters about his subjects. I found ...more
Oct 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really captivating book detailing Ida Tarbell's life, her journalism career and her exposé on Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller. It also contains a lot of interesting biographical details on Rockefeller as well.

I wasn't really sure what I was getting into exactly when I got this book, but I was really pleased with the book. I expected a bit more about the aftermath of the exposé and supreme court rulings on Standard Oil and how that (briefly) changed American capitalism, but it wa
John Gurney
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a highly readable, dual biography of Ida Tarbell, the path-breaking journalist whose investigative reporting led to the Supreme Court-ordered break-up of the Standard Oil trust, and John D. Rockefeller, the fascinating and ethically flawed business genius. The focus is on Tarbell, as it should be given the abundance of Rockefeller information available. Tarbell professionalized reporting and strove to be fair in her assessment of Rockefeller, Standard Oil, as well as other of her investi ...more
Cypress Butane
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well written, good information. Overall very good... could have had a little bit more, especially toward the end in proving how Tarbell's journalism effected change of policy and restructuring of law. It was good for the length and very informative though, definitely a good story, especially about Ida Tarbell's life and coming to be as a journalist. ...more
Sue Russell
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: journalism-media
A must read for any women (and men) who are interested in the roots of women's role in investigative journalism. Ida Tarbell was ahead of her time and did not back down. Inspirational piece of history. ...more
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-nonfiction
Author Steve Weinberg is a fraud—and all readers of Taking on the Trust: How Ida Tarbell Brought Down John D. Rockerfeller and Standard Oil will be forever grateful that he is! Ostensibly a “dual biography” of dogged journalist Ida Tarbell and stealthy monopolist John D. Rockerfeller, Steinberg’s book is an immensely greater literary treat. Even his admission in the preface that “this book is a hybrid of biography and dramatic narrative” is a vast and humble understatement.

Weinberg admirably ful
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Report Writers, History Buffs
Recommended to Jadewik by: FirstReads
Steve Weinberg writes a compelling dual biography of two excellent persons from history. The way in which the book is written was delightful to read. I can't think of a better historical book that I've ever read.

The lives of John D. Rockefeller and Ida M. Tarbell are so intertwined that the author couldn't write about Tarbell without including much of Rockefeller's life as well. Weinberg points this out in his preface. At first, I was a little daunted by that statement-- Rockefeller is as intimi
Nov 26, 2013 rated it liked it
This book crossed my desk at a moment when I didn't have anything on hand to read. The topic provided a modicum of interest to me and so I waded into it. As a biography, and a dual biography at that, it is adequate, if not inspirational. If you take into account the subtitles of the book, "The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D Rockefeller, How an Investigative Journalist Brought Down Standard Oil" it falls woefully short.
The author presents a standard origin narrative for both subjects and
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, women
I found the information about Rockefeller's early life and family of origin (upstate New Yorkers--he grew up in Richford!!!! I have driven through Richford probably a hundred times and I didn't know that.) Also I didn't know that what we call muck-raking was started by one journalist working for one magazine, a woman, and that she had grown up in a family whose personal fortunes were profoundly negatively impacted by Rockefeller's monopolistic actions. I also didn't know about Rockefeller's beha ...more
Michael Gerald
I got this book due to its relevance to Political Economy, which is a sub-field of Political Science. However, I was disappointed as it is so dragging. Providing a biographical reference to the protagonists is fine, but this one is so tedious. Considering that I am reading other books for my master's degree in Political Science, I decided to cut short my reading of this book and focus on my required readings, while moving to other books in my list for my own leisure. I will try to give this a se ...more
Christopher Mitchell
A good introduction to some of the basics of modern life - massive corporate monopolies and journalism. Unfortunately, the past 100 years have been very good for the monopolies and less good for the journalists. Ida Tarbell is a fascinating hero and her measured criticism, based in documented fact should still resonate today.
May 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Terrific telling of a story that resonates for our time - dogged investigative journalism can expose the nefarious, and often illegal activities of plutocrats and the corporations they exploit to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few, at the expense of their employees, consumers, voters, and the general public.
Aug 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A bit dry in spots but overall good. I am fascinated by strong, independent women who move beyond gender and cultural roles. Ida Tarbell became the first investigative journalist in the late 1800's, early 1900's. Amazing. ...more
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part biography, this book is really more about Tarbell's battle with John D. Rockefeller and how she forever changed the public perception of the man. Well worth a look. ...more
Heidi Huntley
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great story about investigative journalism at its infancy.... Also a good US History lesson during the Second Industrial Revolution. Well written - A breezy non-fiction story.
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At its peak, Standard Oil of New Jersey was the single most powerful company in the world, producing over 90% of the refined oil sold in the United States. And because Standard Oil was involved at every step, from discovery and extraction to refining and distribution, it could control the flow of money with absolute discretion, often adjusting its prices and payments to drive out the few competitors who remained standing against them. According to Eliot Jones, who wrote about Standard Oil in 192 ...more
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
TAKING ON THE TRUST is a highly readable dual biography of John D Rockefeller and Ida Tarbell, the "muckraking" reporter who exposed the unethical business practices of Rockefeller's creation, the Standard Oil Trust.

Rockefeller, the master of "commercial Machiavellianism" rose from poor beginnings (his father was a con man and philanderer) to become one of the wealthiest men in American history. A devout Baptist, he was a devoted family man who neither smoke nor drank, eschewed dancing, and neve
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This highly readable account follows the life of journalist Ida Tarbell and the parallel trajectory of her primary subject, J.D. Rockefeller. As Rockefeller's Standard Oil crushed small producers and expanded its octopus-like reach, Tarbell was honing her skill as one of the country's first investigative reporters. At the turn of the last century, when she turned her full attention to Standard Oil, she produced an account that was widely read and credited with leading to the break-up of the trus ...more
Joe Strnad
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Informative, engaging, accessible. Weinberg explains the wild nature prevalent in the early days of the oil industry. There was an anything goes mentality when wells were first struck around Titusville in western PA. Ida Tarbell's father eked out a living as an independent oil driller; in this world she witnessed how the unregulated industry devastated the environment. Weinberg also tells of Rockefeller's childhood and youth - moving from town to town, his unfaithful father scheming, cheating, a ...more
Tariffs, corruption, environmental destruction, overzealous oligarchs who hoard and build their power by squeezing from others and then scattering the crumbs down to us through public works. It might sound like the 21st century United States, but this story is about the late nineteenth and early 20th century. I've been reading and researching Ida Tarbell and this book is not only an invaluable resource but also an interesting read. I like the author's use of a "dual" biography. The juxtaposition ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
The book spends 200 pages on background and biography before actually delving into Tarbell's expose and conflict the Standard Oil. For all the coverage of the people involved, it still felt like the book didn't do much to actually lay out the nature of Standard Oil's monopoly, Gilded Age politics, and professional women of the time. Everything felt like it needed way more in depth explanation, and it really lacked for direct quotes and footnotes. ...more
Jan 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I had heard of Ida Tarbell I’m sure at some point as the name is familiar, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what she was famous for which is a shame. I’m glad I read this book because Tarbell is an amazingly radical woman for her time who had no qualms about taking on the titan, John D. Rockefeller. I also didn’t realize she came from a region so close to my hometown of Erie, Pa. Regardless, the book got a little dull for me towards the end—at least as an audiobook.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A female reporter takes on America's most powerful and ruthless businessman...and wins!

Ida, we need you now...
Jessica Samuelson
Read for Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge 2019, Task #5: Read a book by a journalist or about journalism ...more
Randy Wilson
Aug 10, 2019 rated it liked it
MehThe title of this book is misleading.  It is a professional biography of Ida Tarbell with a shared focus on the subject of her most famous investigation, John D. Rockefeller.  As that, the book is fine.  Mr. Weinberg is a graceful writer and we get a decent look at the progressive era from the vantage point of the muckrakers.

But there is only a single chapter, ten pages on her investigation into Rockefeller and it barely scratches the surface.  This is an important story too that needs thorou
Bookmarks Magazine

Several critics were impressed by Weinberg's dual biography of Rockefeller and Tarbell. However, some found the book's hybrid format of dramatic narrative and biography a limitation; since readers can already find excellent biographies of both figures, they argued, Weinberg should have devoted more of the book to their conflict and its context. Nearly all reviewers, however, recounted the lives of Tarbell and Rockefeller and their clash in their reviews and felt that the origins of investigative

Michael Harris
I picked this up at the Friends of the Silver Spring Library in Maryland last month as I had recently finished Ron Chernow's Rockefeller biography which was excellently researched and written. This book should have been an interesting read but the author is more of a boring college professor then author. He claims the book took 10 years to research and write to which I would say, I don't think I would choose his as a professor.

Oh well, kiss a lot of frogs!
Jun 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I was listening to a book on Rockefeller, the subject of Ida Tarbell as a person of interest manifested. She seems to have almost perfectly reflected the progressive do-gooder. While it is likely not fair to measure her life in terms of one of her subject of muck raking, that seems to be who she was - John D. Rockefellers chief nemesis.
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Steve Weinberg has written six previous books and dozens of investigative reports for magazines and newspapers. He teaches at the top-ranked University of Missouri Journalism School. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.

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