Rockefeller Money and the Rise
Email this review


One approaches a book on philanthropy guardedly. Is this an apologia for robber barons? An "authorized" account of institutionalized benevolence? Decidely not. While Jonas had access to all the fries, there appear to have been no strings attached. Instead, we are treated to a lively and beautifully documented account of the coming of age of modern science--and the role of private fortunes in that rite of passage. That means a review of the 19th-century English tradition of gentlemen-scholars, the "amateurs" who could indulge their curiosity, and the countervailing force of men like Britisher Charles Babbage, and, in America, the astronomers Hale and Pickering, who argued the need for professionalism in science. America was also home to the new oil and steel barons who, by the turn of the century, sought safe and worthy outlets for their fortunes. The "circuit riders" were the men chosen to manage the money. Like horseback-riding preachers, they were constantly on the road interviewing, learning the new sciences, and the names of coming stars. Jonas focuses on these "philanthropoids," men like Fred Gates, Wickliffe Rose, and Warren Weaver, who dispensed Rockefeller largesse. Over time, the philosophy and targets would change--from bringing the benefits of science to the poor (like eliminating hookworm disease in the South) or backing already established giants, to greater risk-taking in the form of fellowships and grants for specific research projects. Jonas' account is filled with wonderful details of how Andrew Carnegie and John D. Senior and Junior operated, of at least one bad bet-support of the eugenics movement--and an excellent retelling of the penicillin story and of Rockefeller backing the Florey-Chain endeavors in WW II. Today government and industry dominate R&D. There is no question that the precedent of how to do it--and do it right often enough--belongs to the gifted, idiosyncratic circuit riders whom Jonas so well describes.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1989
ISBN: 393-02640-X
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online: