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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. par [Chernow, Ron]
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Longueur : 834 pages Word Wise: Activé Langue : Anglais
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Descriptions du produit

The patrician accent of George Plimpton (author of Truman Capote and The X Factor), with its edge of aristocracy and money, is perfectly suited for telling the rags-to-riches story of America's most famous businessman and philanthropist. Indeed, Plimpton seems to positively relish the superlatives that describe the life of John D. Rockefeller, who was far and away one of the most calculating, secretive, competitive, merciless, and talented figures ever to dominate the free market. Showing, early on, his keen attachment to hard work and keeping accounts, Rockefeller started out as an accountant in Cleveland. From there he went into the produce business, and then on to oil. By the time he was 31, he was the most powerful oil refinery owner in the world. His strategies for suppressing competition and controlling all aspects of the oil business while still paying attention to the smallest details make for dramatic listening in this well-documented and accessible narrative. Plimpton recounts how Rockefeller was the ultimate clutch player, calm in the face of adversity, a manager who was constantly searching for talented people and another way to grow Standard Oil into a megalithic modern corporation. Ultimately his rapacious business practices would make him head of the most powerful monopoly in America and the richest man in the world. Plimpton's engrossing reading of Titan brings out the human side of Rockefeller, a man of contradictions who was greedy yet giving, a capitalist villain and a do-gooder. A teetotalling Baptist, he began giving to charity when he was earning just a few dollars a week. As his wealth grew, so too his financial gifts. In the end, Rockefeller's philanthropic acts rivaled the precedents he set as a businessman. The oil baron died just short of his last goal--to reach the age of 100--but the indelible imprint he made on America's financial landscape will live on into the 21st century. (Running time: six hours, four cassettes) --A.E.D.



The Flimflam Man

In the early 1900s, as Rockefeller vied with Andrew Carnegie for the title of the world's richest man, a spirited rivalry arose between France and Germany, with each claiming to be Rockefeller's ancestral land. Assorted genealogists stood ready, for a sizable fee, to manufacture a splendid royal lineage for the oilman. "I have no desire to trace myself back to the nobility," he said honestly. "I am satisfied with my good old American stock." The most ambitious search for Rockefeller's roots traced them back to a ninth-century French family, the Roquefeuilles, who supposedly inhabited a Languedoc château-a charming story that unfortunately has been refuted by recent findings. In contrast, the Rockefellers' German lineage has been clearly established in the Rhine valley dating back to at least the early 1600s.

Around 1723, Johann Peter Rockefeller, a miller, gathered up his wife and five children, set sail for Philadelphia, and settled on a farm in Somerville and then Amwell, New Jersey, where he evidently flourished and acquired large landholdings. More than a decade later, his cousin Diell Rockefeller left southwest Germany and moved to Germantown, New York. Diell's granddaughter Christina married her distant relative William, one of Johann's grandsons. (Never particularly sentimental about his European forebears, John D. Rockefeller did erect a monument to the patriarch, Johann Peter, at his burial site in Flemington, New Jersey.) The marriage of William and Christina produced a son named Godfrey Rockefeller, who was the grandfather of the oil titan and a most unlikely progenitor of the clan. In 1806, Godfrey married Lucy Avery in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, despite the grave qualms of her family.

Establishing a pattern that would be replicated by Rockefeller's own mother, Lucy had, in her family's disparaging view, married down. Her ancestors had emigrated from Devon, England, to Salem, Massachusetts, around 1630, forming part of the Puritan tide. As they became settled and gentrified, the versatile Averys spawned ministers, soldiers, civic leaders, explorers, and traders, not to mention a bold clutch of Indian fighters. During the American Revolution, eleven Averys perished gloriously in the battle of Groton. While the Rockefellers' "noble" roots required some poetic license and liberal embellishment, Lucy could justly claim descent from Edmund Ironside, the English king, who was crowned in 1016.

Godfrey Rockefeller was sadly mismatched with his enterprising wife. He had a stunted, impoverished look and a hangdog air of perpetual defeat. Taller than her husband, a fiery Baptist of commanding presence, Lucy was rawboned and confident, with a vigorous step and alert blue eyes. A former schoolteacher, she was better educated than Godfrey. Even John D., never given to invidious comments about relatives, tactfully conceded, "My grandmother was a brave woman. Her husband was not so brave as she." If Godfrey contributed the Rockefeller coloring-bluish gray eyes, light brown hair-Lucy introduced the rangy frame later notable among the men. Enjoying robust energy and buoyant health, Lucy had ten children, with the third, William Avery Rockefeller, born in Granger, New York, in 1810. While it is easy enough to date the birth of Rockefeller's father, teams of frazzled reporters would one day exhaust themselves trying to establish the date of his death.

As a farmer and businessman, Godfrey enjoyed checkered success, and his aborted business ventures exposed his family to an insecure, peripatetic life. They were forced to move to Granger and Ancram, New York, then to Great Barrington, before doubling back to Livingston, New York. John D. Rockefeller's upbringing would be fertile with cautionary figures of weak men gone astray. Godfrey must have been invoked frequently as a model to be avoided. By all accounts, Grandpa was a jovial, good-natured man but feckless and addicted to drink, producing in Lucy an everlasting hatred of liquor that she must have drummed into her grandson. Grandpa Godfrey was the first to establish in John D.'s mind an enduring equation between bonhomie and lax character, making the latter prefer the society of sober, tight-lipped men in full command of their emotions.

The Rockefeller records offer various scenarios of why Godfrey and Lucy packed their belongings into an overloaded Conestoga wagon and headed west between 1832 and 1834. By one account, the Rockefellers, along with several neighbors, were dispossessed of their land in a heated title dispute with some English investors. Another account has an unscrupulous businessman gulling Godfrey into swapping his farm for allegedly richer turf in Tioga County. (If this claim was in fact made, it proved a cruel hoax.) Some relatives later said that Michigan was Godfrey's real destination but that Lucy vetoed such a drastic relocation, preferring the New England culture of upstate New York to the wilds of Michigan.

Whatever the reason, the Rockefellers reenacted the primordial American rite of setting out in search of fresh opportunity. In the 1830s, many settlers from Massachusetts and Connecticut were swarming excitedly into wilderness areas of western New York, a migration that Alexis de Tocqueville described as "a game of chance" pursued for "the emotions it excites, as much as for the gain it procures." The construction of the Erie Canal in the 1820s had lured many settlers to the area. Godfrey and Lucy heaped up their worldly possessions in a canvas-topped prairie schooner, drawn by oxen, and headed toward the sparsely settled territory. For two weeks, they traveled along the dusty Albany-Catskill turnpike, creeping through forests as darkly forbidding as the setting of a Grimms' fairy tale. With much baggage and little passenger space, the Rockefellers had to walk for much of the journey, with Lucy and the children (except William, who did not accompany them) taking turns sitting in the wagon whenever they grew weary. As they finally reached their destination, Richford, New York, the last three and a half miles were especially arduous, and the oxen negotiated the stony, rutted path with difficulty. At the end, they had to lash their exhausted team up a nearly vertical hillside to possess their virgin sixty acres. As family legend has it, Godfrey got out, tramped to the property's peak, inspected the vista, and said mournfully, "This is as close as we shall ever get to Michigan." So, in a memorial to dashed hopes, the spot would forever bear the melancholy name of Michigan Hill.

Even today scarcely more than a crossroads, Richford was then a stagecoach stop in the wooded country southeast of Ithaca and northwest of Binghamton. The area's original inhabitants, the Iroquois, had been chased out after the American Revolution and replaced by revolutionary army veterans. Still an uncouth frontier when the Rockefellers arrived, this backwater had recently attained township status, its village square dating from 1821. Civilization had taken only a tenuous hold. The dense forests on all sides teemed with game-bear, deer, panther, wild turkey, and cottontail rabbit-and people carried flaring torches at night to frighten away the roaming packs of wolves.

By the time that John D. Rockefeller was born in 1839, Richford was acquiring the amenities of a small town. It had some nascent industries-sawmills, gristmills, and a whiskey distillery-plus a schoolhouse and a church. Most inhabitants scratched out a living from hardscrabble farming, yet these newcomers were hopeful and enterprising. Notwithstanding their frontier trappings, they had carried with them the frugal culture of Puritan New England, which John D. Rockefeller would come to exemplify.

The Rockfellers' steep property provided a sweeping panorama of a fertile valley. The vernal slopes were spattered with wildflowers, and chestnuts and berries abounded in the fall. Amid this sylvan beauty, the Rockfellers had to struggle with a spartan life. They occupied a small, plain house, twenty-two feet deep and sixteen feet across, fashioned with hand-hewn beams and timbers. The thin soil was so rocky that it required heroic exertions just to hack a clearing through the underbrush and across thickly forested slopes of pine, hemlock, oak, and maple.

As best we can gauge from a handful of surviving anecdotes, Lucy ably managed both family and farm and never shirked heavy toil. Assisted by a pair of steers, she laid an entire stone wall by herself and had the quick-witted cunning and cool resourcefulness that would reappear in her grandson. John D. delighted in telling how she pounced upon a grain thief in their dark barn one night. Unable to discern the intruder's face, she had the mental composure to snip a piece of fabric from his coat sleeve. When she later spotted the man's frayed coat, she confronted the flabbergasted thief with the missing swatch; having silently made her point, she never pressed charges. One last item about Lucy deserves mention: She had great interest in herbal medicines and home-brewed remedies prepared from a "physic bush" in the backyard. Many years later, her curious grandson sent specimens of this bush to a laboratory to see whether they possessed genuine medicinal value. Perhaps it was from Lucy that he inherited the fascination with medicine that ran through his life, right up to his creation of the world's preeminent medical-research institute.

By the time he was in his twenties, William Avery Rockefeller was already a sworn foe of conventional morality who had opted for a vagabond existence. Even as an adolescent, he disappeared on long trips in midwinter, providing no clues as to his whereabouts. Throughout his life, he expended considerable energy on tricks and schemes to avoid plain hard work. But he possessed such brash charm and rugged good looks-he was nearly six feet tall, with a broad chest, high forehead, and thick auburn beard covering a pugnacious jaw-that people were instantly beguiled by him. This appealing façade, at least for a while, lulled skeptics and disarmed critics. It wasn't surprising that this nomad did not accompany his parents on their westward trek to Richford but instead drifted into the area around 1835 in his own inimitable fashion. When he first appeared in a neighboring hamlet, he quickly impressed the locals with his unorthodox style. Posing as a deaf-mute peddler selling cheap novelties, he kept a small slate with the words "I am deaf and dumb" chalked across it tied by a string to his buttonhole. On this slate, he conversed with the locals and later boasted how he exploited this ruse to flush out all the town secrets. To win the confidence of strangers and soften them up for the hard sell, he toted along a kaleidoscope, inviting people to peer into it. During his long career as a confidence man, Big Bill always risked reprisals from people who might suddenly unmask his deceptions, and he narrowly escaped detection at the home of a Deacon Wells. The deacon and his daughter, a Mrs. Smith, pitied the poor peddler who knocked on their door one Saturday and sheltered him in their home that night. The next morning, when they invited him to church, Big Bill had to resort to some fancy footwork, for he always shied away from crowds where somebody might recognize him and expose his imposture. "Billy told [the deacon] in writing that he liked to go to church, but that his infirmity caused him to be stared at, so that he was abashed and would not go," recalled a townsman. "He really feared that he might be exposed by someone." Seven months later, after the deacon and Big Bill had both moved to Richford, Mrs. Smith spotted the erstwhile deaf-mute at a social gathering and marveled at his miraculous recovery of speech. "I see that you can talk better than when I saw you last," she said. Big Bill smiled, unfazed, his bravado intact. "Yes, I'm somewhat improved." When he arrived in Richford, the local citizens immediately got a taste of his fakery, for he wordlessly flashed a slate with the scribbled query, "Where is the house of Godfrey Rockefeller?"

Since he usually presented false claims about himself and his products, Bill worked a large territory to elude the law. He was roving more than thirty miles northwest of Richford, in the vicinity of Niles and Moravia, when he first met his future wife, Eliza Davison, at her father's farmhouse. With a flair for showmanship and self-promotion, he always wore brocaded vests or other brightly colored duds that must have dazzled a sheltered farm girl like Eliza. Like many itinerant vendors in rural places, he was a smooth-talking purveyor of dreams along with tawdry trinkets, and Eliza responded to this romantic wanderer. She was sufficiently taken in by his deaf-and-dumb humbug that she involuntarily exclaimed in his presence, "I'd marry that man if he were not deaf and dumb." Whatever tacit doubts she might have harbored when she discovered his deceit, she soon succumbed, as did other women, to his mesmerizing charm.

A prudent, straitlaced Baptist of Scotch-Irish descent, deeply attached to his daughter, John Davison must have sensed the world of trouble that awaited Eliza if she got mixed up with Big Bill Rockefeller, and he strongly discouraged the match. In later years, Eliza Rockefeller would seem to be a dried-up, withered spinster, but in late 1836 she was a slim, spirited young woman with flaming red hair and blue eyes. Pious and self-contained, she was the antithesis of Bill and probably found him so hypnotic for just that reason. Who knows what gloom hung around her doorstep that was dispelled by Bill's glib patter? Her mother had died when Eliza was only twelve-she had dropped dead after taking a pill dispensed by a traveling doctor-and Eliza was raised by her older sister, Mary Ann, leaving Eliza deprived of maternal counsel.

On February 18, 1837, despite the express opposition of John Davison, this most improbable couple-Bill was twenty-seven, Eliza twenty-four-were wed at the home of one of Eliza's friends. The marriage was a favorite gossip item among the Richford townspeople, who tended to spy guile on Bill's part. Compared to the Davisons, the Rockefellers were poor country folk, and it is very likely that Bill was entranced by reports of John Davison's modest wealth. As early as 1801, the frugal Davison had acquired 150 acres in Cayuga County. In John D.'s words, "My grandfather was a rich man-that is, for his time he was counted rich. In those days one who had his farm paid for and had a little money beside was counted rich. Four or five or six thousand was counted rich. My grandfather had perhaps three or four times that. He had money to lend."

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 14497 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 834 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 1400077303
  • Editeur : Vintage; Édition : 2nd (18 décembre 2007)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) HASH(0x99f5a2dc) étoiles sur 5 458 commentaires
110 internautes sur 113 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x99f79150) étoiles sur 5 Titan - A Powerhouse 16 mars 2006
Par Zubair Khan - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Ron Chernow's Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is a powerhouse from beginning to end. Chernow is fast becoming one of my favorite biographers after reading Alexander Hamilton and now this. In both books, he is able to keep you turning the page while, at the same time, building carefully rendered portraits of these complex historical figures.

In Titan, he is at his best, describing Rockefeller as both a great philanthropist and also a man possessed by greed. Chernow's Rockefeller can be as consumed by creating a great Baptist University [University of Chicago] as building tactical alliances that will squeeze out any hope of competition for his company, Standard Oil.

With his first brush stroke, Chernow paints the picture of Rockefeller's father a mountebank, philanderer and a bigamist. From meager beginnings, it is amazing to see the determination with which Rockefeller builds himself up. Rockefeller's ability to move so rapidly from a life of destitution and failure to one of unparallelled wealth and success is built with clear precision though at a dizzying pace.

Chernow's decision to focus so heavily on Rockefeller's father in the beginning of the book is important because the man Rockefeller becomes is a repudiation of everything his father stood for. The son in this case knew what a scoundrel his father was and acted in every way to become everything he was not. The father was a philnaderer, while the son remained devoted to his one wife even when he had become wildly successful. As the father placed his own interests ahead of his family's needs, the son put his family ahead of everything else. And in the realm of business, the father had become a complete failure, while the son achieved successes beyond the wildest expectations of anyone to that point.

But, for all of his success and his blindess to the fact, Rockefeller grew up to be much like his father. His father's ability to con his way out of any situation at any cost was a built in feature of Rockefeller's personality. No matter how much good he did in the world and how much he evolved as a man, he was his father's son. This was no more evident than in the way Rockefeller did business as the leader of Standard Oil. He removed any and all competition at any cost.

For all of his achievements, Rockefeller was never able to completely remove that original strain of human frailness that his father gave him. This was what eventually led to the downfall of Standard Oil and which made Rockefeller Sr. such a complex figure both beloved and hated by those who knew him or of him.

Despite his profound understanding of the mechanics and psychology of the business world, it is Chernow's ability to develop strong character studies that make his books so admirable. During many of the best parts of Titan, Chernow is developing a colorful hybrid of supporting characters every bit as interesting as Rockefeller himself. What makes it all the more impressive is that Chernow does so while carefully tying everything in to build the theme within Rockefeller's life. You get the idea from reading Chernow that you are witnessing the actual motivations of the characters he writes about.
69 internautes sur 71 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x99f791a4) étoiles sur 5 Deep, impartial, intelligent and thorough. 10 octobre 1999
Par SL-N/1973 - Publié sur
Format: Broché
As a frequent visitor to New York, I'd often wondered who the "Rockefeller" of the Rockefeller Plaza was, and how he made his fortune. I bought this book with an air of caution, as biographies of highly successfull people can be biased either towards patronising hero-worship, or venomous character assasination. I needn't have worried, as Ron Chernow's extensive, thorough and even-handed book portrays not only JDR's progress through and beyond his 98 years, but also America's consequent development.
The personal conflict between hard-edged business practices and religious ethics are deftly portrayed, and left for the reader to decide wether or not Rockefeller was trying to bring stability and structure to a highly unpredictable market place, or being an un-controllable corporate steam-roller.
The book is not just a study of the incredible business career of John D Rockefeller. To take us some of the way towards understanding the individual, Ron Chernow allows time to give a fascinating look at the early days of not only the parents and grandparents, but also the life styles and factors from before his birth that would so influence the life of JDR. The book covers the years of philanthropy showing how a vast fortune in the right hands can be used effectively.
It's an excellent book, well researched and well written. I learned a great deal from it, and have a tremendous respect for not only the subject of the book, but also the author. I'd recommend "TITAN" to everyone.
65 internautes sur 68 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x99f795dc) étoiles sur 5 Incredible 27 décembre 2006
Par Marty McCarthy - Publié sur
Format: Broché
I have to be honest, I did not pick up and read Ron Chernow's Titan because I was burning to read a biography about John D. Rockefeller. I read Titan because I had just recently finished reading Ron Chernow's biography on Alexander Hamilton. In reading Titan, I hoped I would be getting a work similar to Alexander Hamilton, namely the quality of Chernow's prose and the rendering of his subject. Titan exceeded my expectations on all counts.

Chernow has an incredible ability to not only tell the story of a man, but to also tell the story of the times in which the man lived and, in so doing, place his subject squarely within his time. In telling the story of Rockefeller, Chernow is telling the story of America for the nearly 100 years Rockefeller was alive and living in America.

In rendering Rockefeller, Chernow gives us a full portrait of the man - both good and bad and never delivers a verdict on either. Instead, Chernow leaves it to the readers to draw their own conclusion on the man. In so doing, the reader is forced to confront the legacy left by Rockerfeller the Robber Barron with the legacy left by Rockefeller the philanthropist.

One conclusion though, that is implied in the text (if not overtly stated) is that had Rockefeller died during the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust in 1911, the judgement of history probably would have ignored Rockefeller's charitable contributions and condemned him outright. Instead, Rockefeller lived until 1937 during which time he garnered acclaim for his philanthropy. It also certainly did not hurt that Rockefeller's son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. would do so much to secure his father's place as America's foremost philanthopists as well as rehabilitate his father's Robber Barron image.

In short, if you like John D. Rockefeller, read this book. If you do not like John D. Rockefeller, read this book. If you are indifferent to John D. Rockefeller, read this book. Titan is an example of biography done objectively and done well.
137 internautes sur 154 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x99f799a8) étoiles sur 5 Understanding Rockefeller 9 octobre 2004
Par John P Bernat - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Read this book before reading "Great Fortune."

"Great Fortune" is the story of the building of Rockefeller Center, and inevitably discusses the leadership influence of John D. Rockefeller jr. and Nelson Rockefeller.

However, the man who sired "junior" was John D. Sr., of course, and he was the one who created the values and assumptions which his family took into the 21st century.

I read this book because I had been simply curious about the mechanics of "the robber barons." Exactly how, and under what circumstances, were a few men in our history able to amass huge concentrations of money and thus profoundly direct our nation's affairs? And what were their personalities and values, too.

More so than any history book, Chernow's work in this area sheds needed light onto these questions. And, in learning Rockefeller's story, the reader also gains some understanding of contemporary titans like Bill Gates and - well - Jeff Bezos.

It's not Horatio Alger, exactly. That said, when you read Chernow's thorough and objective study, you realize that certain qualities are timeless:

1. Commitment to hard work.

2. Insight into meta-forces beyond the day to day.

3. Incredible drive and focus.

4. Ruthlessness in competition.

5. Sublime confidence in your own rectitude and success.

This is a great book with lessons well beyond its era.
28 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x99f79a8c) étoiles sur 5 Finest business biography I've ever read 12 octobre 2000
Par Mark Edward Bachmann - Publié sur
Format: Relié
While John Rockefeller is one of the most famous and influential men in American history, he has nonetheless come down to Americans in caricature: steely-faced, secretive, greedy, crafty, and ruthless. He was certainly all these, but Ron Chernow has in this book laid bare for us the rest of the story, which is complex, exhilarating, quirky, and rich in paradox. A business genius, Rockefeller was a pivotal figure in developing the modern corporation as the organizational vehicle for controlling massive capital-intensive operations. Recognizing early on that an empire of the scale he envisioned could not be run effectively in the autocratic style still common in his day, he rarely made important decisions without seeking debate and achieving a common mind among his key associates, foreshadowing the "consensus-management" style typical of large-scale enterprise today. His most flagrant sin, and the one that fueled the political backlash against Standard Oil, was the ruthlessness with which he crushed competitors. However, even here he played by the cold-blooded rules as he saw them and was rarely vindictive. When advantageous to himself, as it often was, he extended the olive branch to vanquished rivals, buying out their companies and drawing them into his organization, making at least some of them richer than they could have been on their own. This was not generosity but the inexorable mechanism whereby he expanded Standard Oil into a monopoly. Nevertheless, generosity - paradoxical as it seems - was in fact central to Rockefeller's life. Chernow traces Rockefeller's philanthropy back to his deepest roots as the dutiful son of an intensely religious Baptist mother. We seem him tithing to his church and devoting his time and attention to charity and "good works" already at the start of his career when he was a salaried bookkeeper struggling to put food on his family's table. He made his fortune relatively early in what proved to be a very long life, and he gradually backed away from active management of his company, focusing his colossal energies for most of his mature years on his philanthropic enterprises. There is a wealth of personal material in this book that makes Rockefeller very human, albeit eccentric. His passion as an old man for golf, for example, was almost comical. He despised high-society and ostentation, and socialized mostly with business cronies, family members and people from the smallish Baptist church he was devoted to his entire life. One of the more fascinating threads concerns his ne'er-do-well father, an itinerant huckster and small-time swindler who largely abandoned his family to near-poverty, but had a habit of re-appearing at odd times througout his son's life. Chernow leads us to speculate that the fanatical discipline and devotion to duty which drove Rockefeller might have been a reaction formation against his irresponsible paterfamilias. Who knows? Like all biographies, even the best ones, this book in the end fails to "explain" it's subject, and if anything Rockefeller emerges from it more enigmatic than ever. But the book brings him alive and left me with the desire to know more about him, always the mark of a top-notch biography. That's what this one is and I highly recommend it.
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