People Staff
June 15, 1998 12:00 PM

by Ron Chernow

Book of the week

In his appropriately colossal biography of the larger-than-life industrialist John D. Rockefeller Sr., author Ron Chernow (who won a 1990 National Book Award for The House of Morgan) uses newly available archives to delve into the psyche of this paradoxical giant. The son of a penniless, bigamous con man and patent-medicine salesman, Rockefeller turned his shady family name into a synonym for prodigious wealth and worldly success. A strict evangelical Baptist, the founder of Standard Oil apparently had no trouble squaring his religious principles with his rapacious and unethical business practices: manipulating the transportation industry, forcing competitors out of business, bribing elected officials, violently breaking strikes and blithely ignoring the government’s attempts to limit the power of monopolies and trusts. A frugal man given to quarreling with grocers over household bills, Rockefeller was also a legendary philanthropist, donating millions to medical research and education. Chernow’s detailed picture of this “implausible blend of sin and sanctity” is a scrupulously balanced, frequently fascinating and humanizing portrait of a figure of seemingly superhuman energy and ambition. (Random House, $30)

Bottom Line: Rich bio of a very rich fellow

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