The archetypal American institution-builder—in industry, philanthropy, and the family dynasty bearing his name—is etched with uncommon objectivity and literary grace by National Book Award—winning business historian Chernow (The Death of the Banker, 1997, etc.). “Silence, mystery, and evasion” perpetually enveloped the founder of the world’s first great industrial trust, enabling him to crush rivals to his Standard Oil Co. The same cocoon presented daunting obstacles to earlier chroniclers of John D. Rockefeller Sr., both detractors (crusading muckraker Ida Tarbell) and supporters (Allan Nevins). Greater access to family archives, including a 1,700-page interview given by Rockefeller in retirement, enable Chernow to tear at this membrance of artifice and to offer as detailed, balanced, and psychologically insightful a portrait of the tycoon as we may ever have. Chernow traces Rockefeller’s contradictory impulses toward greed and godliness to his parents. His father, who abandoned the family for years at a time to ply rustic innocents with patent medicines, left him with shameful secrets (e.g., bigamy and a rape indictment) and acquisitive instincts; his mother instilled a devotion to the Baptist faith that manifested itself in philanthropy. Chernow is careful to deny some of the hoariest myths of Rockefeller demonology, to detail his managerial gifts, and to underscore his crimes (his alliance with railroads in the shell organization the South Improvement Company involved rebates, insider intelligence, and “grand-scale collusion such as American industry had never witnessed”). Above all, he offers a figure abounding in paradox: the prototypical monopolist who sought to eliminate what he saw as wasteful competition, only to spark an antitrust suit that forced the dissolution of his company; a homeopathy advocate who funded medical research that marginalized this form of medicine; and a tightly wound, self-possessed, despised businessman who in his 40-year retirement displayed a joy in play and a talent for charming reporters, winning the affection of the world. Business biography on a grand scale.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-43808-4

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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