David Rockefeller: Memoirs

by Brian W. Fairbanks

 


Random House
ISBN: 0679405887
more info at Barnes and Nobles

Despite the famous surname, David Rockefeller is an almost obscure figure.  Unlike his late brother Nelson, the youngest of John D. Rockefeller Jr's five sons never courted the public's favor or campaigned for political office.  Indeed, he seems almost phobic about publicity.  He was president of Chase Manhattan Bank, chairman of Rockefeller University, and like his father and grandfather before him, is noted for his philanthropy.  But type his name into an internet search engine, and it's clear a lot of people think David is unduly modest about his activities.  To them, Rockefeller is as ominous a figure as Satan.  Dubbed "the secret ruler of the world" by more than one conspiracy buff, Rockefeller is often cast as a master puppeteer whose strings are attached to presidents, prime ministers, the media, and the world economy. And he pulls those strings with a clique of equally powerful elitists from behind the impenetrable walls of the Council On Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberg Group.  

Pity, none of this is given much attention in Memoirs, a heaping 496 pages of tame prose highlighted by an account of Rockefeller's early years.  As the youngest of the brood, David, born in 1915, was shunned by his older siblings, including Nelson who was as handsome, charismatic and boisterous as David was pudgy, shy and retiring.  When dealing with his often lonely childhood, Rockefeller writes with a disarming modesty that easily wins over the reader.  Like his father who suffered from an often paralyzing shyness, David had to work hard to build the confidence that would make his adult life so eventful.  Rockefeller writes about that adult life with the same modesty, but it's here that he may lose the sympathy of most readers.

David admits that he never earned an A in college, but he did manage an A- in entomology.  Yes, conspiracy buffs, the study of insects.  And there is evidence that Rockefeller sees little difference between bugs and the great unwashed who populate the human race. As he said in 1973, "Whatever the price of the Chinese revolution, it has obviously succeeded not only in producing more efficient and dedicated administration, but also in fostering high morale and community of purpose." 

His words of praise for the revolution in which some 10,000,000 people were murdered, didn't make it into his book, but when explaining his and Chase Manhattan's friendly dealings with every dictator from Pinochet and Saddam Hussein to Romania's Nicholae Ceausescu, he says, "Even though I was totally unsympathetic to these regimes, I believed the bank should work with them."  And work with them he did, very profitably so. 

Rockefeller's apparent indifference to human suffering really came to the world's attention in 1979.  The Iranian hostage crisis of that year might never have happened if David had not escorted the deposed Shah of Iran to safety in the U.S., thereby enraging the Ayatollah and his cutthroat supporters.  Like his grandfather, who said "Let the world wag" after muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell exposed his empire for the monopoly it was, David doesn't apologize for his role in that disaster. 

Readers of his Memoirs who are not fascinated by banking may expect an apology for much of this book. Page after tedious page is devoted to the subject, and much of the tedium results from Rockefeller's personality.  Like the villain in a James Bond movie, Rockefeller is always charming, never once losing his temper.  When describing a confrontation with a rival at Chase, David writes, "If the disagreement was strong enough, we could end up pretty close to the borderline of incivility." 

Most interesting, apart from the account of his early years, may be the description of the power struggles within the family itself.  For much of his life, Nelson was the unofficial head of the dynasty, but his wiliness to put personal interests above those of the family led to his being ousted by, who else?, David. By then, David had long since stopped idolizing his big brother who would die in 1979 while in the arms of a woman other than his wife (another aspect of Nelson's life of which David did not approve).

Of course, throughout the life recounted in Memoirs, we see David Rockefeller putting his own and his family's personal interests above those of his country and the world in general.  Blood is thicker all right, even thicker than Rockefeller's mediocre book.


Brian W. Fairbanks
Entertainment Editor

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