At lunch today with my brilliant younger colleague Bryan Caplan I mentioned that I’m now reading Titan, Ron Chernow’s 1999 biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (It’s a pretty good read so far, but I’m only a quarter of the way through the book. My opinion of it might still rise or fall.)
I commented to Bryan that one notably irritating aspect of the book is Chernow’s frequent expression of surprise that Rockefeller was such a good and giving man to his family, friends, and community (even before he was rich) yet so doggedly effective at running his business in ways that made life very difficult for his competitors and many of his suppliers. Chernow unquestioningly assumes that a good, deeply Christian, and generous human being would not so vigorously and unrelentingly outdo rivals, even to the point of – and without regrets – running those rivals into bankruptcy, as did Rockefeller.
Upon hearing the above, Bryan said “I wonder if Chernow would write a biography of a great sports star and, finding that star to be an upstanding and generous soul at home, express surprise that that star was unapologetically aggressive and competitive while on the playing field.”