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

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

Steve Weinberg, . . Norton, $25.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04935-0

Investigative journalist Weinberg (Armand Hammer: The Untold Story ) briskly recounts the story of the rise of the Standard Oil monopoly in the late 19th century and muckraking reporter Ida Tarbell's role in bringing it down. The book is a study in opposites: John D. Rockefeller used his enormous wealth “to establish the staid, stable family life he had lacked as a youngster.” Tarbell—raised in bourgeois stability, intellectually ravenous and interested in the women's movement from an early age —resisted women's traditional domestic role. Wishing to help address society's problems, Tarbell was lured into magazine writing, where she developed what Weinberg calls her trademark “tone of controlled outrage.” In her articles on Standard, published just after the turn of the 20th century in McClure's and then in book form, she amassed evidence that Rockefeller engaged in “unfair competition” and argued forcefully that all Americans should be concerned with business ethics. Her reporting helped create the modern genre of investigative journalism, and the author's brief references to Wal-Mart and contemporary journalism suggest that he hopes this engaging account—a likely pick for journalism classes—can help inspire more reporters to follow in Tarbell's footsteps. 16 pages of illus. (Mar.)