Book A Month: Titan
“I’ve got this whole reading thing down, books don’t scare me anymore, I’m going to get a long book and crush it.” I did the former but the latter took longer than I would have liked, two months longer.
Titan is the entire life of John D. Rockefeller, and more, spread out over 675 pages. For anyone who is unaware, Rockefeller was the man who brought oil (and all of its related products) to market right after it was discovered in the 1860’s. This accomplishment led to creating a huge monopoly on the oil market as well as lifetime personal donations of roughly $30 billion in 1996 dollars (when the book was written)*. After he amassed this wealth, he distributed it to several different causes and organizations, some of which he created, as well as creating the University of Chicago.
It’s very hard to narrow down what Mr. Rockefeller was able to do during his 97 year life into a single sentence without leaving out very important pieces. Some of the other major things I left out from the above statement include owning a significant portion of the iron mines as steel production was rising, his son using his inheritance to create multiple national parks and help push the park service into being, creating multiple medical institutions that lead to achievements such as eradicating hookworm, and being an innovative business leader and strategy master. This is part of the reason why the book is as long as it is.
The other reason is because the author explored every facet of his life including long sections devoted to his parents (mainly his wandering-salesman father), his siblings, his children and several key colleagues, namely Fredrick T. Gates, the man who managed his philanthropy efforts.
With that said, let me get to the point. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in business biographies but I would preface that with saying the last ~100 pages are about his kids, mainly John Jr., who received a bulk of the inheritance plus other sections throughout the book that aren’t directly related to Rockefeller Sr. My point here is, feel free to skip sections or chapters as many are not necessary and won’t leave you confused if you gloss over them. The more positive side to the length and depth of this book is the fact that I am walking away from this book with a very solid understanding of how he started Standard Oil, the kind of man Rockefeller was and why he is important to know today (Standard Oil was broken up and became Exxon, Mobil, Chevron and many other gas station companies).
The author, Ron Chernow, wrote with a high degree of visualization as well as clarity throughout the many different aspects of Rockefeller’s life that keep the book engaging. But when Chernow introduced someone, I failed to remember them specifically and after he introduced twenty more people I wouldn’t be able to differentiate everyone. If you can remember who Ida Tarbell, Fredrick Gates and Henry Flagler are you will be in good shape.
Speaking of Ida Tarbell, my biggest criticism of this book is how often Chernow would write as if we already know about an event or person even though I barely knew who Rockefeller was before starting the book, let alone his colleagues or events related to his life or business.
TL:DR – This book is long (for me) and wasn’t perfect but it is definitely worth a read if you like business biographies as it gives great insight into Rockefeller’s personality and talent.
Next up is I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. While writing Dating Robots I discovered my fascination with science fiction and now is a good time to move away from non-fiction for a little while. What better way to start than with a classic and a book that is half the length.
Even though it took me a long time to finish Titan, I’m still on track for reading a book a month.
*If you look here that number is a fraction of his total wealth. Either way, he was extremely wealthy.