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Bringing down America's House of Oil

A new look at the investigative reporting that lead to the breakup of John D. Rockefeller's monopoly,

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Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller by Steve Weinberg W. W. Norton & Company 306 pp., $25.95

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In Taking on the Trust, Steve Weinberg has written a dual biography with a powerful plot: Ida Tarbell, the first investigative journalist, brings down John D. Rockefeller, America's first billionaire and the head of Standard Oil. Weinberg's book tell us how she did it and what it meant for the United States.

Weinberg, who is a journalist himself, clearly sides with Tarbell, the star reporter for McClure's, the trendsetting magazine of the Progressive Era. Tarbell paved the way for women journalists, with bestselling biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Madame Roland. But despite her literary success, she harbored strong grievances against John D. Rockefeller, whose ability to market oil at eight cents a gallon enabled him to sell a phenomenal 60 percent of all oil sold in the world.

Back in Rockefeller's heyday, oil was mainly refined into kerosene to illuminate homes and offices. While most refiners dumped oil by-products into nearby rivers, Rockefeller hired researchers to develop waxes, paving materials, and detergents from the seemingly unmarketable sludge. He also developed the technology that enabled him to extract more kerosene out of a barrel of oil than anyone else. Rockefeller became a billionaire by making a fraction of a cent selling millions of gallons of kerosene to every civilized part of the earth.

New wealth for many

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