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

I cried at the end of this book.  I admit it.  Okay, I'll also admit that I understand that  John D. Rockefeller, Sr.,  was complicated.  He was complicated in the areas that his wealth, estimated at 2012 figures at over $800 BILLION when he was alive, brought about in his effect on not simply the nation but the world.  Standard Oil at the turn of the century was similar to a nation within a nation having unparalleled control over the oil, gasoline, real estate and railroad system around the country.  Rockefeller was also ruthless in dealing with his competition.  Buying them out, squeezing them out, leveraging the world against them so they had no choice but to be absorbed into his system.  Understand though taht this all existed before regulation of businesses and business practices, in fact the anti-monopoly government cases started with Standard Oil.

So now you're saying to yourself how could I find myself emotionally moved by this man?  I found similarities to him in his childhood, he kept meticulous records on his every purchase and started a small business selling newspapers, eventually expanding it out into a large route around the city.  I did the same starting a newspaper business with a $5 loan from my mother (I had to sign a repayment contract), I was 7 then.  I used the money to buy comic books but I kept meticulous records about each purchase and the profit needs based on what comics were coming out weeks and months ahead of time (anyone remember Marvel Age comic?)  What also impressed me was his diligence to giving money away and trying to figure out how to do it wisely.  I look at my lifetime and consider that what I amass now I'll have to learn how to adroitly give away.  I've purposefully taken jobs at non-profits with massive annual budgets (100 million+) to small grassroots ($250k) to understand the needs and usage of monies.  Rockefeller funded Spelman College as well as a host of other schools across the South, circumventing Jim Crow because he felt that religiously all human beings were allowed education.  This lead to the creation of the University of Chicago, Rockefeller University and scores of other projects.  In fact he's considered the father of modern philanthropy eventually having to design a system that the mega-wealthy use now to give away money.

And in the end, I felt sorry for him.  Without our modern perspectives on wealth and business integrity he amassed the largest fortune in modern times, in America, ever.  But personally, to his friends and family and countless strangers he was a nice, thoughtful, polite, caring man.  The dichotomy is startling but the perspective buffered by the knowledge that he acts as a true example of ambition, ability, acumen must be tempered with maturity, perhaps even spirituality, to take upon the onus of responsibility, truly being the noblesse oblige, that he came to feel those more benefited than others must have.

Ron Chernow, the author does an outstanding job of bringing this complicated Titan to life and gives us a balanced portrait of him so that we understand him.  And in the understanding, can sympathize, see similarities and yes, even tear up because his eventual wisdom went through so much isolated evolution.

Kyle Phoenix
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