Review: Titan, Ron Chernow

Rating: 5 out of 5

I was impressed by Mr Chernow’s attention to detail when I read his biography of Alexander Hamilton. Therefore, it was with some trepidation I took up the story of Mr John D Rockefeller — I was very unsure of what to expect other than it would be an interesting read. That much proved to be true…

The author’s commitment to detail means that statements made either by the author himself or others in the past are rigorously examined and either proven or disproven by reference to original statements and letters. The style is dispassionate; of a historian out to describe the past and not to simply recite an already accepted story.

This means that John D. Rockefeller, Sr., comes through to the reader as a human. He is most definitely a character of amazing skill and devotion, but also a businessman out to make money. It is not a question of reprehensibility or morality insofar as one uses the opportunities that exist in their time. It was therefore instructive also to see how the Standard Oil trust changed after the founder gave up his position — and what mistakes were made in that process.

However, what speaks most strongly to me is the author’s urge to correct historic un-truths. It was not more than two days ago that I saw an article in which Rockefeller was portrayed as a money-grabbing scumbag, and a careful examination of the detail of his life would prove something very different. But how often is that examination undertaken if there is a narrative that can be provided to suit already existing preconceptions…

I was surprised and thrilled to learn both how Mr Rockefeller made his money, how he lost some of it, and the ways he was challenged in using it. More a variety of different grays than either black or white, there was something instructive in the successes and failures of this giant of industry — and I believe that this book highlights those key moments very well.

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