Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller

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Overview

“A demonstration that . . . the power of the press to expose corruption was not to be ignored.”—Paul E. Steiger, Wall Street Journal

Hailed by critics on its release, this fascinating dual biography looks at two extraordinary lives and the social history of the Progressive Era. Taking on the Trust is a grand achievement by a skilled scholar and proud defender of the ever-necessary act of political journalism.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
As a journalistic icon, Tarbell serves as both a high water mark for effective journalism and a sobering reminder of the limited power of the pen.— Tom Abate
Washington Post
A story that ought to thrill any investigative reporter.— Michael Kazin
Publishers Weekly

This extensively researched account of one woman's successful attempt to take on one of the largest oil companies in the world, which just happened to be owned by John D. Rockefeller, is a truly exceptional piece of work worthy of multiple listens. Pam Ward reads with vigor and enthusiasm, presenting Weinberg's account of Ida Tarbell and justice during the Progressive Era with honesty and resolve. Ward reads with remarkable clarity but never slows to a lethargic pace. While the subject may seem aimed at a limited audience, the topics of discussion are largely applicable in today's modern world, and Ward seems positively aware of this in her reading. A Norton hardcover (Reviews, Dec. 17). (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This is a fascinating and well-written account of the development of monopoly capitalism and the birth of investigative journalism. America's first oil boom, in northwestern Pennsylvania in the 1860s, set the stage for the collision course of McClure's magazine reporter Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller, owner of Standard Oil. Weinberg (journalism, Univ. of Missouri; The Reporter's Handbook ) traces their separate paths up through Tarbell's exposé of the operations of Rockefeller's company in a series of articles beginning in 1902. He describes his work here as a hybrid of biography and dramatic narrative, and he gives equal attention to both of his main characters. Drawing on investigative journalism techniques himself, he uses a wide range of primary sources to sketch Tarbell's and Rockefeller's personalities and their professional lives. Both had ties to the oil industry from an early age. Weinberg shows them as complex human beings-good, yet flawed. He illustrates how Rockefeller, in addition to being a ruthless capitalist, dedicated himself to his family and church, in contrast to his own wastrel father. Tarbell, however, has clearly been a role model for Weinberg, and she shines in his portrayal. This book tells a dramatic story in an engaging style and will be a good addition for both public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/07.]-Judy Solberg, Seattle Univ. Lib.

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Pointed contrasting portraits of the pioneering investigative journalist and the titan of industry. Weinberg (Journalism/Univ. of Missouri; Telling the Untold Story: How Investigative Reporters are Changing the Craft of Biography, 1992, etc.) recounts the connections that both figures had with the oil industry: Tarbell (1857-1944) grew up around the oil fields of Titusville, Pa., and witnessed the effects on her father's small business of the growing trust established by Rockefeller (1839-1937). The author contrasts their childhoods: Rockefeller's was unstable, his mother harsh, his father a conman and a bigamist; Tarbell had a traditional middle-class background. Weinberg shows Rockefeller struggling to get an education and Tarbell becoming a biology major at Allegheny College, the only female graduate in the class of 1880. He then follows Tarbell's subsequent career as editor and reporter for the Chautauquan, her years as a freelance journalist in Paris and her move to New York City to become an editor and investigative journalist for McClure's magazine. (Rockefeller mostly drops out of the narrative here.) After producing two circulation-boosting series on Napoleon and Lincoln, she tackled Standard Oil, writing a serialized expose of the trust's business practices that when published in book form became her most famous work, The History of the Standard Oil Company. The author details Tarbell's painstaking research into government documents, court records, newspaper files and church records, as well as her extensive interviews with Standard Oil executive Henry Rogers; extensive quotations reveal the eloquence and clarity of her prose. Tarbell's investigation, Weinberg reminds us,aroused public resentment against Rockefeller and Standard Oil that led to the government's legal actions against the petroleum trust and eventually to its breakup in 1911. Rockefeller remains a sketchy figure, but Tarbell emerges as a remarkably intelligent, diligent and principled woman with great independence of spirit.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393335514
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/10/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 674,378
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

The author of six books, Steve Weinberg has been a longtime board member of the National Book Critics Circle and currently teaches investigative journalism at the University of Missouri Journalism School. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.

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Table of Contents

Preface     ix
Ida Tarbell: A Childhood Portrait in Oil     3
John D. Rockefeller: A Young Adult Portrait in Oil     21
Civil War: Dodging Bullets as the Oil Flows     38
Moving Up     64
Lost, and Found     84
Discovering the Power of the Printed Word     101
Far from Home, Close to Home     126
McClure's Magazine     150
Napoleon     168
Unearthing Skeletons     177
The Expose Mentality     190
Researching the Behemoth     208
Exposed     219
A Question of Character     229
Aftermath of an Expose     244
For the Rest of Their Lives     259
Bibliographic Essay and Select Bibliography     275
Acknowledgments     289
Index     291
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