On His Own Terms

  • by Richard Norton Smith
  • Narrated by Paul Michael
  • 40 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From acclaimed historian Richard Norton Smith comes the definitive life of an American icon: Nelson Rockefeller - one of the most complex and compelling figures of the 20th century.
Fourteen years in the making, this magisterial biography of the original Rockefeller Republican draws on thousands of newly available documents and over 200 interviews, including Rockefeller’s own unpublished reminiscences.
Grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Nelson coveted the White House from childhood. “When you think of what I had,” he once remarked, “what else was there to aspire to?” Before he was 30 he had helped his father develop Rockefeller Center and his mother establish the Museum of Modern Art. At 32 he was Franklin Roosevelt’s wartime coordinator for Latin America. As New York’s four-term governor he set national standards in education, the environment, and urban policy. The charismatic face of liberal Republicanism, Rockefeller championed civil rights and health insurance for all. Three times he sought the presidency - arguably in the wrong party. At the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in 1964, locked in an epic battle with Barry Goldwater, Rockefeller denounced extremist elements in the GOP, a moment that changed the party forever. But he could not wrest the nomination from the Arizona conservative, or from Richard Nixon four years later. In the end, he had to settle for two dispiriting years as vice president under Gerald Ford.
In On His Own Terms, Richard Norton Smith re-creates Rockefeller’s improbable rise to the governor’s mansion, his politically disastrous divorce and remarriage, and his often surprising relationships with presidents and political leaders from FDR to Henry Kissinger. A frustrated architect turned master builder, an avid collector of art and an unabashed ladies’ man, “Rocky” promoted fallout shelters and affordable housing with equal enthusiasm. From the deadly 1971 prison uprising at Attica and unceasing battles with New York City mayor John Lindsay to his son’s unsolved disappearance (and the grisly theories it spawned), the punitive drug laws that bear his name, and the much-gossiped-about circumstances of his death, Nelson Rockefeller’s was a life of astonishing color, range, and relevance. On His Own Terms, a masterpiece of the biographer’s art, vividly captures the soaring optimism, polarizing politics, and inner turmoil of this American Original.

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Audible Editor Reviews

“The amount of first-class scholarship Richard Norton Smith undertook to write about Nelson Rockefeller is utterly remarkable. This is one of the greatest cradle-to-grave biographies written in the past 50 years. It’s never dull and always joyfully lucid. Highly recommended!” (Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite)

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What the Critics Say

“Richard Norton Smith has brought us a gripping, magisterial, deeply researched life of one of the most intriguing figures in American political history. In Smith’s vivid rendering, Nelson Rockefeller is exuberant, talented, conflicted, apparently unstoppable, and then, ultimately, poignant amid the frustration of his Ozymandian ambitions. Along with the tale of Rockefeller’s life, On His Own Terms also brings us a timely, knowing close-up view of what used to be called - at its zenith, which now seems so long ago -the ‘Rockefeller wing’ of the Republican party.” (Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789–1989)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

An Excellent biography

Richard Norton Smith is a well known historian and biographer. He is known for his strenuously researched, fully contextualized, comprehensive biographies. True to his reputation he has created an outstanding, comprehensive biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Nelson Rockefeller was the grandson of John D. Rockefeller and was born on his grandfather’s birthday. His father was John D. Rockefeller Jr. The author states that because NR did not have to make a living he chose to dedicate his life to public service. Smith spends about a third of the book on NR early life.

Smith describes NR’s first job in government in August 1940 when he was appointed Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs by President Franklin Roosevelt. He was charged with designing economic aid and cultural programs for Latin America. He spent fifteen years in Washington as a special adviser, undersecretary and cabinet member for three successive presidents two of them democrats. Smith states NR developed a reputation as a visionary connoisseur of innovative thinking. In 1957 he became the Governor of New York. While governor he expanded colleges, parks and state infrastructure. Smith states NR blazed trails in funding the arts, protecting the consumer, restoring the environment and advancing transportation, human rights, highway safety and so on. On the negative side Smith states that in his final years as governor he became a budgetary hawk, did a right ward shift on welfare, did a brutal suppression of the rebellion at Attica state prison in 1971 and created draconian drug laws in 1973.

Smith does not wallow in salacious details nor does he close his eyes to Rockefeller’s flagrant adultery and its personal and political consequences. He pulls no punches in this biography. Smith reports that as Rockefeller aged he became even more confident in his superiority, more self indulgent and more oblivious to his marginalization within the Republican Party.

Smith reveals NR had dyslexia; therefore he called in authors, experts to explain their ideas to him instead of reading the reports. Because of his wealth he was able to create a brain trust around himself to assist him and to inform him of the latest ideas, knowledge etc.

Nelson Rockefeller has been the subject of at least ten previous biographies but this one may turn out to be the most definitive one. This book is 880 pages or 41 hours in the audio book format but I could hard put it down it kept my attention throughout. Smith spend 14 years doing meticulous research, this included not only the prior biographies but also interviews with early Rockefeller contemporaries and 60,000 pages of newly available oral histories and family archives as well as the newly released letters of NR’s first wife Mary Rockefeller. This biography is all that an unbiased biography should be. Paul Michael did a good job narrating the book.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

Awesome Biography About A Forgotten Man

As a student of history and as a former New Yorker who grew up in NY at the end of Rockefeller's tenure as governor, I thought that the author of this book penned an extremely well written thorough and very fair biography about a wealthy man who led the liberal wing of the Republican Party before the GOP became the conservative party of Reagan and Goldwater that it remains to this day. I must admit that I did not know how complex an individual Nelson Rockefeller truly was nor that he actually served in the presidential administrations of FDR, Truman and Eisenhower before launching himself into his own political career as governor of the Empire State. It is hard to believe that Rockefeller's wing of the GOP (Rockefeller Republicans) stood for government regulation and intervention in almost all key aspects of the economy based on the belief that government spending and involvement brings the most good to the public. The author did a superb job in describing how while this vision initially worked, it began to weaken with Rockefeller's defeat by Goldwater at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco (great description of Rockefeller's speech to the convention and the jeering reaction he received) and it came crashing to earth with the huge deficits in the NY State budget in the early 1970's when revenue sharing with the federal government began to ebb. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book focused on the Attica prison riot and Rockefeller's conduct during all phases of the revolt- including its brutal suppression of the prisoners and the slaughter of some of the hostages. The author also did a great job weaving in some of the great historical figures of Rockefeller's life including his grandfather (the original John D. Rockefeller), Henry Kissinger (whom Rockefeller developed and promoted), FDR, Eisenhower, Cordell Hull, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford (Rockefeller was his VP) and Donald Rumsfeld (with whom he feuded). The narration was very good. The only drawback to the book is that one feels overwhelmed by the number of different people who played a part in Rockefeller's life and career. Otherwise it is a phenomenal book and well worth the listen.
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- IRP "IRP"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-21-2014
  • Publisher: Random House Audio