While there is certainly a bit of irony in the title of a book about a relatively diminutive figure like John D. Rockefeller that suggests physical enormity, Ron Chernow chose his title not based upon his subject’s size but on the enormity of his subject’s accomplishments. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is about one of the most influential figures in American economic history. One of the founders of Standard Oil, once among the largest oil companies in the world, Rockefeller is appropriately categorized among a select group of men who became what are called “titans” of American industry. Men like J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould and Henry Ford were responsible for the growth of American industry during the latter half of the 19th and well into the 20th century. Chernow’s biography is replete with instances of references to giants and to Rockefeller as a titan, as when he quotes his subject stating, “I come of a strong family, men of unusual strength, a family of giants.” People are giants in the context of their contributions to an endeavor without regard to their physical dimensions or stature. Commenting on Rockefeller’s innovative approach to business, Chernow writes that “Rockefeller created the model for the vertically integrated oil giants that would straddle the globe in the twentieth century” and, in reference to this man whose contributions to the growth of the oil industry were almost without equal, the author suggests that “the titan could peer into the most distant corners of his realm.”
Chernow’s use of the term “titan” has nothing to do with Rockefeller’s physical stature, and everything to do with his subject’s ability to shape one of the nation’s largest and most influential industries.