Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow – Book Review

John D. Rockefeller is someone I’ve wanted to read about for a long time. He retains a larger than life presence even though it’s been over 80 years since his passing. I suspect it has something to do with the sheer wealth Rockefeller accumulated during his time. In today’s dollars, Rockefeller’s wealth would have surpassed that of Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s combined!

I’m not sure why I chose this book, specifically. There is plenty of information available on Rockefeller via various websites, YouTube and other sources. Given how polarizing this subject is, however, I felt like I needed a comprehensive resource to make up my own mind.

An In-depth Study

Weighing in at a hefty 1.2 pounds (0.54 kg) and spanning a whopping 832 pages, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow is probably as close to comprehensive as you can get on this topic!

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., charts Rockefeller’s life from humble beginnings, to all-conquering oil baron. The book also sheds light on his later years, where he settled into his role as family patriarch and focused on charitable endeavors. Permeating this narrative is

Titan by Ron Chernow

Rockefeller’s strong Baptist faith and its application to justify, at times, questionable business tactics. I must confess, I did find the first quarter of the book a little challenging. The author devotes considerable pages to Rockefeller’s early years as the family moved regularly, lived meagerly and waited on Rockefeller’s father to return from his travels as an “herbal doctor” short-changing wide-eyed rural folk. As the book progresses, the story picks up momentum and these early chapters set the scene for how Rockefeller’s approach was forged by his formative years and the strained dynamic with his father.

As for my thinking on John D. Rockefeller, this book has shaped some strong thoughts which consider his business ruthlessness but also his generosity particularly during later years. Rather than saying much more, I would be interested to hear whether you felt the same way. Please feel free to drop me a note below.

Key Takeaways

I found the following to be key takeaways from reading Titan:

  • The importance of resilience – Rockefeller’s first job was as an assistant bookkeeper at the age of 16. He searched an astounding 6 days a week for 6 weeks to secure this first role.
  • Work ethic helps – During his early days as a bookkeeper, Rockefeller would start work each day at 6.30am, have lunch at work and return to work after dinner. He even marks a plan in his diary to curb his addiction: “I have this day covenanted with myself not to be seen in [the office] after 10 o’clock PM within 30 days.”
  • Being charitable – Started his charitable giving at 16, donating 6% of his earnings. By 20, his donations exceed 10% of his income.


Image of John D Rockefeller in 1885

Although he is long gone, Rockefeller’s legacy remains in the charitable practices he started, the dynasty that bares his name and mammoth offspring created from the break-up of the Standard Oil Company including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Marathon Petroleum and Amoco (now part of BP). Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., is a great insight into the man that started it all.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow is perfect for:

  • General motivation
  • Modern history buffs
  • Discovering the man behind the name.

It is available at all good retailers including :

I hope you enjoyed this review. If you have any thoughts or suggestions for making these articles more relevant to you, please feel free to leave me a comment below.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars.

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