Ron Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Essay

Ron Chernow’sColossus: The Life of John D. Rockefeller. Sr.nowadayss the life narrative of John D. Rockefeller. the world’s foremost billionaire and the prototype of the self-made adult male. Chernow begins the book by supplying the reader four citations. all of which make an effort to warrant who and what Rockefeller was. every bit good as a elaborate household tree and a preface in which Chernow clearly states his intent for composing this life.

His end was to show a complete image of Rockefeller. non merely of his old ages as a man of affairs. as other lifes have done. Chernow competently describes Rockefeller in the preface when he writes that Rockefeller. more than anyone else. “incarnated the capitalist revolution that followed the Civil War and transformed American life. He embodied all its virtuousnesss of thrift. autonomy. difficult work. and indefatigable endeavor. Yet…he besides personified many of its most crying frailties. ” ?

Following the preface is the preliminary of the book. in which Chernow presents a specific point in Rockefeller’s life. He has. for all purposes and intents. retired from the concern universe. His boy. John Jr. . comes up with the thought of holding his father’s life written. To carry through this. William O. Inglis is hired for the occupation. Therefore. from 1917 to 1920. Rockefeller and Inglis spend hours each twenty-four hours discoursing the most interesting life Rockefeller has led.

The information gathered by Inglis is acquired in an unusual manner: he reads fromWealth Against Commonwealth– written by Henry Demarest Lloyd – and articles written by Ida Minerva Tarbell. both of whom were steadfast critics of Rockefeller’s concern tactics ; in bend. Rockefeller refutes all their unfavorable judgments and accusals paragraph by paragraph. By the terminal of these three old ages of questioning. Inglis has a 1700-page manuscript. which unluckily was ne’er published. Ironically. it was sent to Ida Tarbell. who read it and stated that it was excessively nonreversible. portraying Rockefeller in an highly unpleasant visible radiation.

In the 35 chapters that make up the meat of this 700-plus page life. Chernow tells the intriguing. yet at times hard. narrative of John D. Rockefeller. Chernow begins with Rockefeller’s low roots. picturing for the reader the ludicrous matrimony of Rockefeller’s parents. every bit good as his ain birth in the late 1830s. While his male parent gallivanted about with other adult females. his female parent remained at place. raising the household and seeking her best to keep her caput high despite her husband’s black behaviour. Chernow goes on to discourse how. at a immature age. Rockefeller became the adult male of the house. and therefore his mother’s beginning of strength and stableness.

By the clip he was 16. Rockefeller had finished with school and was now working as a bookkeeper for a green goods transporting company. Chernow takes the reader on an interesting journey from this point on. depicting how Rockefeller entered the concern universe as a mere bookkeeper and left it having his ain monolithic company: Standard Oil.

A elaborate history is provided of how Standard Oil evolved from being a little concern in the late 1860s to being a immense monopoly. or what today would be called a pudding stone. by the eightiess. Chernow besides demonstrates the consequence Standard Oil had on the concern universe in footings of the jurisprudence. It was because of this immense monopoly that the Sherman Antitrust Act came into being. and it would be that same act that would interrupt Standard Oil up. Yet. instead than destruct the company. the break-up “…helped to continue Rockefeller’s bequest for descendants and unimpeachably made him the world’s richest adult male. ” ?

Intertwined with the narrative of Standard Oil is the narrative of Rockefeller’s personal life. Chernow provides the reader with an about soap-opera like narrative of the consequence his father’s philandering had on Rockefeller in footings of how he dealt with future relationships. While his matrimony was a solid 1. Rockefeller’s relationship with his kids was something of a different nature. One gets the sense that all of them seemed to experience trapped by the name Rockefeller. for while it had great privileges attached to it. it besides had great duties attached to it every bit good. The load of this duty would finally fall on John Jr. . so to his ain five boies. and their ain kids.

Along with a treatment of his household life. in which Chernow provides several interesting choice morsels on Rockefeller’s kids. Chernow besides provides an history of Rockefeller’s extended philanthropic enterprises. The terminal consequence of these enterprises are the Rockefeller Foundation. the University of Chicago. and Rockefeller University. merely to call a few. When the torch of philanthropic gift passed to John Jr. . America received Rockefeller Center. the Museum of Modern Art. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. all of which are still enjoyed today.

Chernow closes the book with the decease of Rockefeller’s decease in 1937. authorship that Rockefeller’s bequest was one filled with contradiction. “An amalgam of godliness and greed. compassion and demonic cunning…Not surprisingly. he had served as an emblem of both corporate greed and philanthropic enlightenment. ” ? However. John Jr. put it best when he said: “There was merely one John D. Rockefeller. ”4

As one progresses through the book. it is clear that there is an overruling subject: the impact faith had on Rockefeller’s life. Turning up the boy of an extramarital. con creative person could non hold been an easy thing. Therefore. the Baptist church – which Rockefeller officially joined in the mid-1840s – provided him a alternate household with none of the black aspects his existent household had. Furthermore. the practical guidelines he used throughout his life he gleaned from Christianity. frequently stressing “the public-service corporation of faith as a guide” in all things.5

When speaking of faith in footings of Rockefeller’s concern enterprises. Chernow gives the reader the feeling that Rockefeller saw his concern traffics as being sanctioned by God. This is best expressed through the words of Rockefeller himself: “I believe the power to do money is a gift from God…to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of world. Having been endowed with the gift I possess. I believe it is my responsibility to do money and still more money. and to utilize the money I make for the good of my fellow adult male harmonizing to the dictates of my scruples. ”6

Another facet that Chernow is able to convey to the reader is the period in which Rockefeller became a elephantine in concern. Throughout the text. Chernow continually points out that the post-Civil War epoch in America is what made it the leader it is today. This postwar epoch. named the Gilded Age. was a period in which huge paces were made in the industrial sector of America. It was besides a period in which. for the first clip. one truly saw how immense the spread between the rich and the hapless truly was. For those similar Rockefeller. working hard resulted in immense pecuniary addition ; yet for others. working difficult merely helped them populate one measure off from arrant poorness. Therefore. while the rich lived deluxe lives. the hapless lived destitute lives. wishing they could populate like the rich or close to it.

This reading of the Gilded Age seems to be the criterion. Almost everything written about this period emphasizes the huge differences between the rich and the hapless. every bit good as the huge development America went through during this period. Without the Gilded Age. the fiscal sector of America as we know it would non be in being. However. the reading of Rockefeller that Chernow provides the reader with is rather different from the usual 1.

Whenever Rockefeller and his fellow concern co-workers – Andrew Carnegie. J. P. Morgan. Jay Gould. to call a few – are mentioned. they are called robber barons. a negative term intending they acquired their wealth through questionable tactics. Chernow destroys this negativeness by showing Rockefeller. every bit good as the full Gilded Age. in a more humanist mode. Like every individual in being. Rockefeller had defects and the Gilded Age was flawed every bit good. Nonetheless. in the long tally. both Rockefeller and the Gilded Age had properties that made them successful and good to history.

Another book that besides attempts to chase away this negative image of work forces like Rockefeller isCapital City: New York City and the Men Behind America’s Rise to Economic Dominace. 1860-1900. written by Thomas Kessler.Capital City. besides set in the Gilded Age. tells the narrative of how New York City achieved its dominant function in the economic universe. Yet. intertwined with that narrative is the narrative of Rockefeller. Carnegie. Morgan. etc. all portrayed in an in a more enlightened mode. As Chernow did. Kessler puts forth the feeling that. while these work forces had their defects and used slightly questionable concern tactics. underneath it all. they were genuinely good work forces who gave back every bit much as they took.

Chernow’sColossusis an first-class read. supplying one with an in-depth analysis of Rockefeller the individual and Rockefeller the fable. It besides allows the reader a glance into the Gilded Age. an epoch when draw a bead oning to be affluent was on everyone’s head. but at which merely a choice few were able to accomplish. Finally. it destroys the impression that everyone during this clip was all about money. as many of these alleged robber barons were besides work forces who taught us the true significance of giving back. They evidently realized that all the wealth they had amassed. they could non take with them when they died. Chernow’s end was to personalise Rockefeller. and he does this with overpowering success.


  1. Ron Chernow.Colossus: The Life of John D. Rockefeller. Sr.( New York: Random House. 1998 ) sixteen.
  1. Ibid. 559.
  1. Ibid. 675-6.
  1. Ibid. 676.
  1. Ibid. 54.
  1. Ibid. 153.


Chernow. Ron.Colossus: The Life of John D. Rockefeller. Sr.New York: Random House.


Kessler. Thomas.Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America’s Rise to

Economic Dominance. 1860-1900.New York: Simon & A ; Schuster. 2004.


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