In The Rockefeller Century (1988), Hart and Johnson paid lengthy if uncritical tribute to the philanthropies of three...


THE ROCKEFELLER CONSCIENCE: An American Family in Public and in Private

In The Rockefeller Century (1988), Hart and Johnson paid lengthy if uncritical tribute to the philanthropies of three successive John D. Rockefellers. Picking up where they left off, the authors now use the career of JDR III as the centerpiece of another prolonged testimonial that advances the family chronicle from the early 1950's, when JDR, Jr., retired, to the 1978 death of his namesake. As before, Harr and Johnson (both former Rockefeller aides) have had exclusive access to private archival sources, plus the cooperation of surviving family members. Once again, however, their labors result in a deadly earnest recital in which JDR III plays second fiddle to his own good intentions, idiosyncratic benefactions, and quotidian routines. Nor do the authors probe their protagonist's apparently complex ties to either his higher-profile brothers (David, Laurence, Nelson, Winthrop) or other kin. Nonetheless, even a short list of the worthy causes to which JDR III committed himself and his inherited wealth is impressive. Among other activities, he was a motive force in Asia Society, Colonial Williamsburg, Lincoln Center, and Population Council. While Hart and Johnson provide behind-the-scenes glimpses of how large foundations operate on a workaday basis, of the ways in which trusts can be structured to ensure that future generations remain moneyed, and of what happens when unanticipated economic or fiscal developments leave the genuinely affluent short of cash, they provide more detail than insight. Beyond postulating a sense of stewardship, moreover, the authors largely fail to clarify what factors impelled JDR III (albeit not his siblings) to devote himself to a form of public service. A reckoning not without interest, then, but one that celebrates and commemorates without illuminating its subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1992


Page Count: 704

Publisher: Scribners

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1991