Taking On The Trust By Steve Weinberg Book Review

Published: 2021-06-21 23:41:22
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Book Review: Taking on the Trust and Outliers
Summary and Analysis
Central to the story of Taking on the Trust is the story of Ida Tarbell, a journalist who specialized in muckraking – a form of journalism that tackles the main issue directly by pointing out moral implications and subsequently instigating activism for reforms. The successful career of Tarbell in journalism has made her one of the most iconic American journalists during the early 20th century. One of the most famous controversies Tarbell has covered is the one involving Standard Oil Company (Weinberg).
Tarbell never regarded herself as a specialist in writing on business stories. Having no profound experience in said field, Tarbell discovered that she is in for a considerable challenge when she received the assignment on writing about Standard Oil Company during the early 20th century. Author Steve Weinberg noted the efforts of Tarbell as a highly notable precedent in muckraking, with her work serving as a template for several contemporary journalists. Weinberg sufficiently covered how Tarbell covered Standard Oil Company, including her strategies and motives in doing so. Most notable is the fact that John Rockefeller, the owner of Standard Oil Company, was uncooperative at best, and yet Tarbell has become successful in writing her story (Weinberg).
The reason as to why Standard Oil Company has become a highly controversial subject for Tarbell to write on is the fact that it was once among the richest companies in the United States (US). The affluence of Standard Oil Company traces from its efforts to generate revenues out of oil production, which was highly significant considering the vast commercial and industrial applications of oil such as automobile operation and electrical supply to residential and commercial areas, among many others. Because of the business nature of Standard Oil Company, Rockwell has firmly established himself as among the richest men in the world during the early 20th century (Weinberg).
Tarbell was no stranger to Standard Oil Company prior to working on her controversial assignment. The Tarbell family, based in Pennsylvania, once had a business that directly competed with Standard Oil Company. Nevertheless, Tarbell went on to a different path by becoming a writer for McClure’s Magazine, a top publication in the US at that time. In becoming a writer for McClure’s Magazine, Tarbell has consistently shown satisfactory performance, hence leading her to write about Standard Oil Company. The coverage of Tarbell on Standard Oil Company proved highly successful as well, as it received high regard in ratings such as in the list of top journalistic stories of the Journalism Department of New York University, in which the story ranked number five (Weinberg).
The coverage of Tarbell on Standard Oil Company happened at a time when perception on companies in the US was still ambivalent among the public. Not many people are aware of the nature of companies, so they do not have exactly a definite opinion on whether companies are beneficial or harmful to society. The same goes for journalism on companies, which thrived in a trial-or-error manner that time. Tarbell herself did not have the expertise to write about companies, which initially proved to be a massive endeavor for her. Eventually, Tarbell issued around 20 issues worth of stories for McClure’s Magazine on the nature of Standard Oil Company. In writing the stories, Tarbell emphasized on the intricacies of her subject matter, including the history of Rockefeller as he developed a profound interest in investing on oil that enabled him to develop Standard Oil Company. Concluding the 20-issue feature on Standard Oil Company is a profile of Rockefeller, which is perhaps among the earliest of its kind written in a publication (Weinberg).
In writing about Standard Oil Company, Tarbell has searched and browsed numerous related documents. What Tarbell figured out on her discoveries is that Standard Oil Company is engaged in hardline acts against competitors and other companies, such as those involved in railroad construction. Such proved a shocking revelation for the US that time, as the articles of Tarbell proved that Standard Oil Company has been involved in multiple acts of unfair corporate practices. To validate more on particular facts, Tarbell sought interviews with people inside Standard Oil Company alongside their competitors. Tarbell has done such things without failing through gaining the trust of both parties, one that did not happen to other journalists that time (Weinberg).
The coverage of Standard Oil Company by Tarbell was highly controversial for two strong reasons. Firstly, Tarbell served as a pioneer in the field of muckraking, particularly one involving a corporation. Secondly, Tarbell effectively exposed the unfair corporate practices of Standard Oil Company, which then enlightened the people on the nature of companies during a period where such entities have just emerged. Although Tarbell produced a striking revelation, she nevertheless became successful in the aspect of presenting her coverage without any expression of bias on her end. In effect, Tarbell presented her work in the most informative manner possible without necessarily focusing on putting down the reputation of Standard Oil Company. The balance of the coverage Tarbell has produced rests on the fact of her prudent usage of the information she gathered from various sources (Weinberg).
The response of Rockefeller served as one of the most important aspects of the controversy involving the report of Tarbell on the Standard Oil Company. Verily, Rockefeller did not figure in any direct and physical confrontation with Tarbell or with any representative coming from McClure’s Magazine in order to respond to questions asked to him. Instead, what Rockefeller did is to utilize the services rendered by public relations professionals, seeing that the findings against Standard Oil Company have already served him with considerable peril that time. Public relations professionals have the uncanny ability to serve as representatives of those who hire them, mostly to provide satisfactory responses to highly sensitive controversies. In doing so, Rockefeller has succeeded in presenting the facts about Standard Oil Company in a highly diplomatic manner. Rockefeller did not just rely on himself alone in answering questions from the media, but rather used the help of public relations professionals, whose job is to represent him in a positive light (Weinberg).
The Book Vis-à-vis Understanding US History
The book under review is highly significant in terms of looking into journalistic practices at the start of the 20th century. Additionally, said book is also instrumental in bringing light to the impressions held by people towards corporations during said period. Verily, the US is a democratic nation that espouses the virtues of press freedom, transparency and accountability, and free market, among many others. The intertwining of said virtues provide a common characterization of the milieu characterizing society in the US at the time when Tarbell flourished, which is relatively underdeveloped in nature compared to that of the present day. An important aspect to note in said book is the fact that during the 20th century, people had absolutely no idea on how some, if not all, corporations act to run their business, hence their divisiveness in providing relevant opinions. Yet, the articles of Tarbell proved somewhat explosive for the people, although they did not lack in terms of the availability of valuable information. Tarbell tried the best that she could in presenting her coverage on the Standard Oil Company in the most factual way possible, without any form of journalistic bias. Although Tarbell herself expressed her astonishment over the findings she has gathered, she nevertheless proceeded with the nitty-gritty procedures that made her successful in terms of her journalistic accounts (Weinberg).
At the same time, the book under review shows how the corporate world discuss its figures, seeing that it is composed of various personalities exposed to the public. Rockefeller was among those kinds of public personalities connected with corporations who gave prompt and responsible responses to questions hurled against him. The formation of public relations professionals has become an effective portal for information exchange between journalists and relevant subjects. At best, the findings of Tarbell showed what many people back then would least expect about corporations. Yet, at the same time, the people did not call on for the abolition of corporations or any other related actions with the journalistic presentation of Tarbell on the Standard Oil Company. Tarbell did not empower the people with biased information against Standard Oil Company, with her works including data on several interviews and documents (Weinberg).
Overall, the book under review is highly important in terms of understanding the milieu that prevailed during the early 20th century in the US. Said book is highly iconic in that aspect, in that it has helped generate both journalistic and corporate practices. Changing perceptions also prevailed as the main team of said book, given its setting on the early 20th century (Weinberg).
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Summary and Analysis
Success is the byword Malcolm Gladwell used thoroughly in writing Outliers. Indeed, the book is mainly about the nature of success – how people come to attain high levels of success. As a graduate of the University of Toronto in 1984, Gladwell has exhibited a writing style that is highly vivid yet uncompromisingly easy to understand, which landed him a job as a journalist for The Washington Post. Such experience led Gladwell to move to The New Yorker eventually, known at that time as among the best newspapers that offer superb literary styles to journalism. Most of the writings of Gladwell concerned the nature of success, which he sought to describe based on common patterns (Gladwell).
Gladwell had his mind set on entering journalism when he attended the University of Toronto. The penchant for behavioral sciences Gladwell has formed for himself derives from the premise that both his mother and father have been academic professionals – the former being an expert in psychotherapy and the latter in mathematics. With the mother of Gladwell having some experience in writing, he gained thorough influence for his writing style, which turned out straight and simple in form. Thus, reception towards his first book, The Tipping Point, was greatly welcoming, with its publication in the year 2000 coinciding with the NASDAQ reaching its peak (Gladwell).
The truth in the accounts of Gladwell in his book under review provides considerable differences, inasmuch as both have similarities. The first part, Opportunity, talks about how Gladwell attained success through two defining attitudes – hard work and sheer talent. The second part, Legacy, involves how Gladwell channeled both his hard work and sheer talent through taking advantage of opportunities one by one. Gladwell thus comments on that wise, “It is not the brightest who succeed”, noting that success is “a gift” that does not necessarily equate as “the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf”. Calling people with such gift as “outliers”, Gladwell noted them as people who frequently meet success simply because they tend to deal with the opportunities given to them strongly and mindfully (Gladwell).
What is highly notable in the book under review is the fact that Gladwell did not necessarily promoted his own account for success in explaining the point of being an outlier. The fact that Gladwell has sought to provide noteworthy examples of success stories makes his point highly reckonable. Examples such as the executives and experts at Silicon Valley and, the Jews of New York City and the Beatles all emphasized the claims made by Gladwell logically and coherently. At the same time, however, Gladwell also took time in explaining part of the heritage of his mother, which is of Jamaican descent (Gladwell).
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, stands as one of the most striking examples Gladwell used in the book under review. Noted for brilliance in computer programming, Gates found himself in a position of opportunity when he happened to attend a high school that is perhaps the only one with a computer club in the Seattle area that time. After forming fundamental knowledge and skills on programming with the help of said computer club, Gates found another compelling opportunity when he attended the University of Washington, wherein he tinkered with computers throughout several hours. Gladwell then asked Gates on the number of counterparts he possibly had when he delved himself into computers during the 1970s. Gates promptly answered that he was probably the only teenager who was active in software development during such time. The opportunities Gates had that time enabled him to become a highly successful software tycoon that he is right now, which merged formidably with the fact that he had the talent and drive to succeed (Gladwell).
The idea that Gates has attended a school with a computer program has permeated the thoughts of parents during his generation. Parents do not have the firm belief that their children have the sheer talent that could bring them to excel even in a school that is not academically fit to support them. Therefore, parents have formed the obsession for their children to attend a highly accredited school, only to realize later on that such does not necessarily provide the path to success. Such flaw is also apparent in other stories of Gladwell in the book under review, most notable in the aspect of the birthdays of hockey players. Gladwell presented a statistical detail of amateur and professional hockey players as those mostly born during the first three months of the year (40%), compared to the 10% born in the last few months of their birth year. Although said pattern is rather peculiar, Gladwell noted how most children born on the first three months of their birth year have encountered success in hockey by gaining stronger muscular builds that has helped them endure intense training sessions that mold them into becoming the best players of their leagues (Gladwell).
In interviewing the father of one of the players of Medicine Hat Tigers during a hockey league final game in Canada, Gladwell noted how the team in which the son of his interview belongs contains a sizable percentage of players born in the first three months of their birth years. However, the father himself has dispelled such rumor, expressly noting that birth dates do not have sufficient relevance to justify the talents of hockey players. Instead, the father emphasized to Gladwell three prevailing attitudes to becoming a successful hockey player, talent, hard work and passion for the game (Gladwell).
What is enthralling about the book under review is that Gladwell has discussed various theories for success that somewhat make sense at surface level. At the same time, however, Gladwell grappled with the prospect of dispelling the rumors behind those theories. Through comprehensive research conducted for the various questions on success, Gladwell subsequently disproved those theories by placing in the virtues of talent, hard work and passion on top of the list. Although it would have been highly impressive for Gladwell to prove those theories given his high intellectual acumen, it is nevertheless refreshing to note that the concept of success is not exclusive to the theories he discussed and disproved (Gladwell).
Nevertheless, the book under review stands as somewhat of a difference compared to the other works of Gladwell. The political nature of the book lies on the fact that opportunities empower people to become more assertive of their road to success. Gladwell notes that people need to learn how to handle the opportunities confronting them in order for them to convert those to success. As in the case of Gates, who founded Microsoft on the basis of his talents and hardworking attitude he has amassed in working on the opportunities he seized, Gladwell noted that the same could happen to other children should they be given with a million opportunities to do so. Therefore, Gladwell notes that success is not exclusive to a particular group of people that are fortunate enough to find their fit on theoretical postulates on success (Gladwell).
The Book Vis-à-vis Understanding US History
The history of the US has found due characterization from the success of people, which has become instrumental to the formation of institutions, corporations and organizations in both government and private sector and subsequent notable innovations. Therefore, the book under review authored by Gladwell stands to have significance in studying how notable people in the US throughout history has achieved success in their respective fields. It is worth questioning whether some people cannot achieve success due to fixed theories on success, given present patterns and sometimes even superstitious notions on successful people. Gladwell profoundly answers those questions through a comprehensive research on those notions and through interviews coming from successful people such as Gates and the players of Medicine Hat Tigers (Gladwell).
Works Cited
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 2011. Print.
Weinberg, Steve. Taking on the Trust: How Ida Tarbell Brought Down John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print.

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