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The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Random House,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Superb biography captures the life and psyche of mogul and philanthropist J.D. Rockefeller, a “saint and sinner.”

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


John D. Rockefeller Sr. was probably the biggest, baddest robber baron in 19th century America, and also its leading philanthropist. Many writers scorned his ruthlessness, notably Ida Tarbell, who wrote two books on Rockefeller and his company, Standard Oil. Author Ron Chernow digs deeper, through masses of Rockefeller family documents, to present the founder of the Rockefeller dynasty as a “man of flesh and bone and soul.” He covers Rockefeller’s ugly, dramatic and even shameful aspects, while concurrently demonstrating his business acumen and his philanthropic leadership amid a remarkable generation of business barons, including William Randolph Hearst, Jay Gould, William Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. An amazing portrait emerges of an almost invisible, rather megalomaniac ascetic who wanted to fulfill God’s will. He became extremely wealthy, gave millions away, and believed that he brought the benefit of inexpensive oil products to all mankind. getAbstract highly recommends this multifaceted biography.


The Titan Emerges

The future “richest man in the world,” John D. Rockefeller (often referred to as JDR) was born in Richford, New York, on July 8, l839. Tales of his early life were cloaked in myth. People said the family was dirt poor. They said his father was a wandering peddler, a rapist (never convicted) and bigamist (well, yes) who deserted the family.

Still, the facts reveal a kinder William “Big Bill” Avery Rockefeller. He was an itinerant peddler of “popular” good-for-everything medicines. He loved his six children and often brought home pocketsful of money intended to last them until his next appearance. He was strong, handsome, articulate and entertaining. He was never publicly accused of bigamy or jailed for it, but he did have two wives and at least two identities. He called himself “Rockafellow” or “Dr. William Levingston.” He was a Baptist, an abolitionist and a nondrinker, and so were most of his kinfolk. When Big Bill was home, he instilled the love of money and the need for business cunning in his son. He often flashed a big roll of bills. He loved people and worked among the poor as a “natural doctor,” selling folk medicines, pulling bad teeth, and...

About the Author

Historian Ron Chernow won the National Book Award for his first book, The House of Morgan, and received the Eccles Prize as the Best Business Book of 1993 for his second book, The Warburgs.

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    V. Z. 9 months ago
    Great wealth of knowledge
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    C. H. 6 years ago
    Thorough, spellbinding! Couldn't put it down. Explains Mr. Rockefeller's role in creating modern day American's financial system.