Essential Books on John D. Rockefeller
There are countless books on John D. Rockefeller, and it comes with good reason, he founded the Standard Oil Company and revolutionized the petroleum industry through corporate and technological innovations. Moreover, the business magnate is widely considered to have been the wealthiest American of all time, and over the course of his life, donated more than $500 million to various philanthropic causes.
“If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on John D. Rockefeller.
Titan by Ron Chernow
From the acclaimed, award-winning author of Alexander Hamilton, here is the essential, endlessly engrossing biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. – the Jekyll-and-Hyde of American capitalism. Over the course of his nearly 98 years, Rockefeller was known as both a rapacious robber baron, whose Standard Oil Company rode roughshod over an industry, and a philanthropist who donated money lavishly to universities and medical centers. He was the terror of his competitors, the bogeyman of reformers, the delight of caricaturists – and an utter enigma.
Drawing on unprecedented access to Rockefeller’s private papers, Chernow reconstructs his subjects’ troubled origins (his father was a swindler and a bigamist) and his single-minded pursuit of wealth. But he also uncovers the profound religiosity that drove him “to give all I could,” his devotion to his father, and the wry sense of humor that made him the country’s most colorful codger.
The Tycoons by Charles R. Morris
The modern American economy was the creation of four men: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan. They were the giants of the Gilded Age, a moment of riotous growth that established America as the richest, most inventive, and most productive country on the planet.
Acclaimed author Charles R. Morris vividly brings the men and their times to life. The ruthlessly competitive Carnegie, the imperial Rockefeller, and the provocateur Gould were obsessed with progress, experiment, and speed. They were balanced by Morgan, the gentleman businessman, who fought, instead, for a global trust in American business.
Through their antagonism and verve, they built an industrial behemoth – and a country of middle-class consumers. The Tycoons tells the incredible story of how these four determined men wrenched the economy into the modern age, inventing a nation of full economic participation that could not have been imagined only a few decades earlier.
Breaking Rockefeller by Peter B. Doran
Marcus Samuel, Jr., is an unorthodox Jewish merchant trader. Henri Deterding is a take-no-prisoners oilman. In 1889, John D. Rockefeller is at the peak of his power. Having annihilated all competition and possessing near total domination of the market, even the U.S. government is wary of challenging the great “anaconda” of Standard Oil. The Standard never loses – that is until Samuel and Deterding team up to form Royal Dutch Shell.
A riveting account of ambition, oil, and greed, Breaking Rockefeller traces Samuel’s rise from outsider to the heights of the British aristocracy, Deterding’s conquest of America, and the collapse of Rockefeller’s monopoly. The beginning of the twentieth century is a time when vast fortunes were made and lost.
Taking readers through the rough and tumble of East London’s streets, the twilight turmoil of czarist Russia, to the halls of the British Parliament, and right down Broadway in New York City, Peter Doran offers a richly detailed, fresh perspective on how Samuel and Deterding beat the world’s richest man at his own game.
Dear Father, Dear Son; Edited by J.W. Ernst
This collection of never-before-published letters traces the history of the transfer of the Rockefeller fortune over the course of fifty years. It illustrates how the endowment was bestowed from Senior to Junior with respect, sound advice, and a mutual trust between father and son.
Outlined in these letters is the conception for the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and the General Education Board. Ernst’s introduction reflects on five themes which run continuously throughout the letters: the respect and love among the members of the family, a father’s precautions to his maturing son, the son’s willingness to accept his father’s precepts and examples, the son’s conscious assumption of the responsibilities of the bequeathed fortune, and overriding faith in a benevolent God.
These themes continually come together to form the outline of a philosophy of life behind the Rockefeller legacy, as when Senior writes: “I am indeed blessed beyond measure in having a son whom I can trust to do this most particular and most important work. Go carefully. Be conservative. Be sure you are right – and then do not be afraid to give out, as your heart prompts you, and as the Lord inspires you.”
Rockefeller’s autobiography “Random Reminiscences Of Men And Events” gives interesting insights into the life of the richest person in modern history. Below is an excerpt:
“Probably in the life of everyone there comes a time when he is inclined to go over again the events, great and small, which have made up the incidents of his work and pleasure, and I am tempted to become a garrulous old man, and tell some stories of men and things which have happened in an active life. In some measure I have been associated with the most interesting people our country has produced, especially in business – men who have helped largely to build up the commerce of the United States, and who have made known its products all over the world. These incidents which come to my mind to speak of seemed vitally important to me when they happened, and they still stand out distinctly in my memory.”
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on John D. Rockefeller, check out our list of The 10 Best Books on Andrew Carnegie!