An epic, revealing biography that becomes, in its author's words, ""a study in the unapologetic use of a great fortune to...


THE LIFE OF NELSON A. ROCKEFELLER Worlds to Conquer: 1908-1958

An epic, revealing biography that becomes, in its author's words, ""a study in the unapologetic use of a great fortune to secure influence."" In this first of two projected volumes on the four-term New York governor, Reich (Financier: The Biography of Andre Meyer, 1983), former executive editor of Institutional Investor, depicts a prototypical restless prince. The traits Nelson Rockefeller displayed in bending the rules of his forbidding millionaire father became those he exhibited with powerful superiors in politics: boundless energy, guile, brazenness, and sycophancy. At 23, Nelson formed his own corporation to lure tenants to the new jewel in the family crown, Rockefeller Center. Before long, he became the prime mover among the five Rockefeller sons by outmaneuvering the management team that had built Rockefeller Center, becoming the president of the Museum of Modern Art, and forming business ventures in South America. Turning to Washington in the 1940s and '50s, in midlevel posts, he helped secure Pan-American unity by wrangling admission for Argentina into the UN, proposed Harry Truman's ""Four Point"" program for aid to developing countries, and suggested Dwight Eisenhower's ""Open Skies"" initiative at the 1955 summit. One Cabinet member after another came to splutter at Rocky's nonstop memos, end-runs to the president, and willingness to use his wealth to supplement aides' government salaries and form ad hoc committees that spawned independent initiatives. Rockefeller found an arena more suited for his outsize ambitions by beating Averell Harriman in a 1958 New York gubernatorial race that set a state record for spending. Reich does not neglect the darker aspects of Rockefeller's early career: arrogance, heedless pursuit of big, often profligate projects, and a Bob Packwood--style wandering eye for comely assistants. ""Rocky"" here seems less like political tyro growing into his role than one already formed and waiting to burst from his shell. But, using his impressive research (interviews with 350 people and access to the family archives), Reich captures all his magnetism, imperial style, and ruthlessness.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1996


Page Count: 896

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996

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