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The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

  • Runtime: 35.1 Hours
  • Recording: Unabridged
  • Release date: 8.15.2013
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio
  • Genre: Nonfiction/Biography & Autobiography
  • 35.07 hrs8/15/2013Unabridged
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-4708-8221-1
1 reviews 0 5 4.8 4 out of 5 stars 4.8/5

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45 day rental Learn more

A New York Times Bestseller

An Audible.com Bestseller

A 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

A 1998 New York Times Editor’s Choice

A 1998 BusinessWeek Best Business Book of the Year

A 1998 Time Magazine Book of the Year

A 1998 Economist Best Biography of the Year

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, a National Book Award–winning biographer, gives us a detailed and insightful history of the mogul. Titan is the first full-length biography based on unrestricted access to Rockefeller’s exceptionally rich trove of papers. A landmark publication full of startling revelations, the book indelibly alters our image of this most enigmatic capitalist.

Born the son of a flamboyant, bigamous snake-oil salesman and a pious, straitlaced mother, Rockefeller rose from rustic origins to become the world’s richest man by creating America’s most powerful and feared monopoly, Standard Oil. Branded “the Octopus” by legions of muckrakers, the trust refined and marketed nearly 90 percent of the oil produced in America.

Rockefeller was likely the most controversial businessman in our nation’s history. Critics charged that his empire was built on unscrupulous tactics: grand-scale collusion with the railroads, predatory pricing, industrial espionage, and wholesale bribery of political officials. The titan spent more than thirty years dodging investigations until Teddy Roosevelt and his trustbusters embarked on a marathon crusade to bring Standard Oil to bay.

While providing abundant evidence of Rockefeller’s misdeeds, Chernow discards the stereotype of the cold-blooded monster to sketch an unforgettably human portrait of a quirky, eccentric original. A devout Baptist and temperance advocate, Rockefeller gave money more generously than anyone before him—his chosen philanthropies included the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Chicago, and what is today Rockefeller University. Titan presents a finely nuanced portrait of a fascinating, complex man, synthesizing his public and private lives and disclosing numerous family scandals, tragedies, and misfortunes that have never before come to light.

John D. Rockefeller’s story captures a pivotal moment in American history, documenting the dramatic post–Civil War shift from small business to the rise of giant corporations that irrevocably transformed the nation. With cameos by Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, Jay Gould, William Vanderbilt, Ida Tarbell, Andrew Carnegie, Carl Jung, J. P. Morgan, William James, Henry Clay Frick, Mark Twain, and Will Rogers, Titan turns Rockefeller’s life into a vivid tapestry of American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is Ron Chernow’s signal triumph that he writes this monumental saga with all the sweep, drama, and insight that this giant subject deserves.

Editorial Reviews

“A scrupulously balanced, frequently fascinating, and humanizing portrait of a figure of seemingly superhuman energy and ambition.”


“One of the great American biographies.”


“A biography that has many of the best attributes of a novel…Wonderfully fluent and compelling.”

New York Times

“Sweeping…Chernow lays out the [Rockefeller] conundrum superbly, delineating the forces that shaped this man and the ways he responded to them.”

USA Today

“Splendid…A blue-chip biography.”


“Chernow has written the definitive biographies of two other legendary financial dynasties…Now, with his Rockefeller biography, he has completed an extraordinary trilogy about the towering figures of twentieth-century commerce.”

Vanity Fair

“You can read this book as a sympathetic portrait of a complex man, a business history, a legal battle, or simply as a great yarn.”


“Stunning…Mr. Chernow has confirmed his reputation as a great business historian.”

Financial Times (London)

“Ron Chernow’s portrait of Rockefeller, an eccentric on a heroic scale as well as a genius, is convincing…This is the best biography of the man so far.”

Washington Post Book World

“It is hard to imagine a better biography of Rockefeller being written…An enthralling biography of an enthralling person.”

Chicago Tribune

“With uncanny timing, Ron Chernow has written a captivating biography of one of the most famous men in American business history…Business needs more books like Titan.”


“A triumph of research, understanding, and elegant writing.”

Houston Chronicle

“[No biographer] has been as skilled, or as exhaustive, as Ron Chernow.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

“A monumental and mesmerizing biography…A fascinating yarn, capturing a man who insisted he could serve God and Mammon.”

San Diego Union-Tribune

“Good biographies are hard to find and great ones even rarer…A thoughtful and balanced approach to one of the most significant and controversial lives of the past century…Spellbinding.”

Seattle Times

“By the time Chernow is finished, the old guy seems utterly human…and oddly appealing…A timeless parable of our civilization.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“A worthy biography of a truly titanic figure.”

Economist (London)

“What a story! An outstanding business biography.”

New York Observer

“A masterful synthesis of research and writing…An extraordinary achievement in biography.”

New Republic

“Chernow, biographer of the Warburgs and the Morgans, has his finest subject in Rockefeller, and is able to furnish anecdotes galore from his encyclopedic research in the family archives…Rather than the cunning, churchgoing hypocrite of legend who spent his Sundays piously but weekdays wrecking his rivals, Rockefeller emerges in Chernow’s elegantly told biography as an enterprising monopolist who ‘regarded God as an ally, a sort of honorary shareholder of Standard Oil.’” 

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Most people think of the founder of Standard Oil as a cold, heartless capitalist who cared for nothing but money and destroying the competition. This biography acknowledges Rockefeller’s dark side but also tries to show him as a man whose generosity still shapes our world. Narrator Grover Gardner’s deep, resonant voice is a wonderful accompaniment to the story of this Gilded Age robber baron. Gardner’s tone and inflection bring to mind the mahogany-paneled clubs that were the refuges of the nineteenth-century corporate elite, and he especially excels when reading quotes from the leaders who lived during that era. It’s an elite performance without a hint of elitism, and, as Rockefeller himself surely would say, merits the investment in time and money.”


“The archetypal American institution-builder—in industry, philanthropy, and the family dynasty bearing his name—is etched with uncommon objectivity and literary grace by National Book Award–winning business historian Chernow…Business biography on a grand scale.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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    • 4/5

    Good but lacking essentials

    Mister History September 8, 2014
    Having just finished this work, I have to admit the detail was massive. I see Rockefeller and his legacy in a new light, thanks to Chernow's excellent research and appreciate what the entire family did to build our nation. Although many think of the man as a controlling monopolist, Chernow balances the scales with what he believes is a full account of his benevolence.
    The author's failure to credit Rockefeller with a business acumen consistent with his faith, fails the reader as to Rockefeller's true motive. Chernow seems almost befuddled by the fact that Rockefeller could justify, as a devout Christian, putting competition out of business. For Rockefeller, his self-interest closely corresponded with God's while most of his competitors were interested in quick cash, and a host of illicit uses for same. The Biblical businessman who sets out to earn millions for the purpose of giving it away to worthy causes has no problem "competing" with those without the same purpose. That competition invariably includes putting people out of business, which is the nature of true capitalism.
    Unfortunately Rockefeller could not insure the same Godly principles would be maintained by his underlings. Chernow failed to mention the numerous employees terminated for failing to maintain Rockefeller's principles and instead focused on what he perceived as hypocrisy. By focusing on his contemporary critics, who he admits ultimately failed to impress anyone except self-serving politicians, Chernow fails the reader. Rockefeller was biblically consistent in his personal life, although somewhat fundamental but considering the vast amounts given to charity and the tiny estate at his death, the branding of the man as a "vile monopolist" seems incredulous.
    The error modern historions who have little or no business/economic background make is the false understanding that competition is something designed to aid the consumer, which is the ultimate good. This latter day philosophy defies the Bible, which describes the investment of capital (True Capitalism) as something one does for his family, his church community and the world by benevolence rather than low prices. The fact that our government after the "Gilded Age" began to hamper business with laws designed to pander to voters doesn't make it right. Rockefeller understood this and unfortunately Chernow doesn't.
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Author Biography

Ron Chernow’s first book, The House of Morgan, won the National Book Award and the Ambassador Award for his contribution to the study of American culture. His second book, The Warburgs, won the Eccles Prize for Excellence in Economic Writing in 1993 and was also selected by the American Library Association as one of that year’s best nonfiction books. In reviewing his collection of essays, The Death of the Banker, the New York Times called the author “as elegant an architect of monumental histories as we’ve seen in decades” and chose the paperback original as one of the year’s Notable Books.

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Reader Biography

Grover Gardner (a.k.a. Tom Parker) is an award-winning narrator with over eight hundred titles to his credit. Named one of the “Best Voices of the Century” and a Golden Voice by AudioFile magazine, he has won three prestigious Audie Awards, was chosen Narrator of the Year for 2005 by Publishers Weekly, and has earned more than thirty Earphones Awards.

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