Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty

Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty

4.7 11
by Daniel Schulman
     
 

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Like the Rockefellers and the Kennedys, the Kochs are one of the most influential dynasties of the modern age, but they have never been the subject of a major biography... until now.

Not long after the death of his father, Charles Koch, then in his early 30s, discovered a letter the family patriarch had written to his sons. "You will receive what now seems to be

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Overview

Like the Rockefellers and the Kennedys, the Kochs are one of the most influential dynasties of the modern age, but they have never been the subject of a major biography... until now.

Not long after the death of his father, Charles Koch, then in his early 30s, discovered a letter the family patriarch had written to his sons. "You will receive what now seems to be a large sum of money," Fred Koch cautioned. "It may either be a blessing or a curse."

Fred's legacy would become a blessing and a curse to his four sons-Frederick, Charles, and fraternal twins David and Bill-who in the ensuing decades fought bitterly over their birthright, the oil and cattle-ranching empire their father left behind in 1967. Against a backdrop of scorched-earth legal skirmishes, Charles and David built Koch Industries into one of the largest private corporations in the world-bigger than Boeing and Disney-and they rose to become two of the wealthiest men on the planet.

Influenced by the sentiments of their father, who was present at the birth of the John Birch Society, Charles and David have spent decades trying to remake the American political landscape and mainline their libertarian views into the national bloodstream. They now control a machine that is a center of gravity within the Republican Party. To their supporters, they are liberating America from the scourge of Big Government. To their detractors, they are political "contract killers," as David Axelrod, President Barack Obama's chief strategist, put it during the 2012 campaign.

Bill, meanwhile, built a multi-billion dollar energy empire all his own, and earned notoriety as an America's Cup-winning yachtsman, a flamboyant playboy, and as a litigious collector of fine wine and Western memorabilia. Frederick lived an intensely private life as an arts patron, refurbishing a series of historic homes and estates.

SONS OF WICHITA traces the complicated lives and legacies of these four tycoons, as well as their business, social, and political ambitions. No matter where you fall on the ideological spectrum, the Kochs are one of the most influential dynasties of our era, but so little is publicly known about this family, their origins, how they make their money, and how they live their lives. Based on hundreds of interviews with friends, relatives, business associates, and many others, SONS OF WICHITA is the first major biography about this wealthy and powerful family-warts and all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 07/28/2014
Mother Jones senior editor Schulman's group portrait of the amazingly wealthy, strong-minded Koch brothers is a critical, but surprisingly nuanced tale of money and influence. Casting new light on one of America's most ambitious families, this "unauthorized" biography will disappoint Koch haters. The Wichita-based Koch money (now totaling billions of dollars) comes from oil grown into a closely held conglomerate with a mixed environmental record. David and Charles have used their wealth to fund the libertarian Cato Institute and more recently, contribute to the Republican Party, and campaign against Obamacare and climate change. They have consequently been on the receiving end of White House enmity. Schulman concentrates on the family's intramural battles: the central conflict begins with an ugly 1985 lawsuit for control of the family money; the four brothers have battled each other in court for decades. Frederick, Charles, and fraternal twins David and Bill—ranging in age from 74 to 82—come off as worldly, intelligent, accomplished, and difficult. This is a complex story of epic sibling rivalry, with important political dimensions. (May)
From the Publisher
"Sons of Wichita feels as close to the truth as anyone is likely to get for a long time to come."—Financial Times"

[A] riveting biography...fair-minded and inquisitive. Schulman offers carefully observed details that help flesh out our image of the men whose money has so dramatically remade our politics, revealing much about their motives as well as the demons that haunt them."—The Washington Post"

[A] complex story of epic sibling rivalry, with important political dimensions."—Publishers Weekly"

[C]ompulsively readable... a bias-free book that illuminates two of the most influential figures on the American landscape while telling a remarkable, if cautionary, tale about money, power, and the bonds of brotherhood."—Booklist"

A straightforward, evenhanded and often riveting assessment."—Kirkus"

[I]f you care about politics and the ultimately far more powerful cultural direction of these United States...[this book] is mandatory reading."—Nick Gillespie, The Daily Beast

Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-29
Mother Jones senior editor Schulman delivers provocative reportage on the Koch alpha-family legacy.Patriarch Fred, a dedicated Kansan industrialist, rancher and entrepreneur, exercised a task-driven, “voracious work ethic.” He was a founding member of the anti-communist John Birch Society and a pugilist, which meant that resolving disputes among his sons often involved gloved fisticuffs. Frederick, the oldest and most artistic, was an outlier gravitating away from the family business. He was soon followed by rebellious second son Charles and “pathologically competitive” fraternal twins David and Bill. Well before his father’s death in 1967, Charles had already assumed authority over the successful family oil-refining business, which Fred left equal percentages of to three of his four sons (Frederick was disinherited due to numerous theft allegations) with the caveat that the bequeathal could be “either a blessing or a curse.” Charles and David exerted a diligent “top-down control” with libertarian leanings in building the business into the country’s second-largest privately owned multinational corporation. However, dissension in the ranks pitted brother against brother, as Schulman depicts in the second half. While the brothers’ drive and dedication further fortified their father’s empire, the Koch family portrait becomes less flattering as their ruthless, vicious infighting and litigiousness became commonplace. The author generously depicts the nasty retaliatory efforts by Charles in response to flashy “Wild Bill’s” numerous efforts to gain his own foothold in the business and against hermetic, reclusive collector Frederick when he refused to relinquish company shares. Now billionaires, Charles’ and David’s strategic, manipulative political contributions, Schulman notes, have also garnered negative notoriety for personifying the nation’s wealth inequality—most notably, in the 2012 presidential election, where they emerged as “cartoonish robber barons” bankrolling the tea party movement. Free from conjecture or personal criticism, Schulman’s astute account is buttressed by concrete research, legal documents, and verbatim interviews with family members and friends.A straightforward, evenhanded and often riveting assessment.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781478901143
Publisher:
Blackstone Audio Inc
Publication date:
05/20/2014
Edition description:
Unabridged Library Edition
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Schulman is a senior editor in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones, and a founding member of the magazine's investigative journalism team. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, Psychology Today, Village Voice, and many other publications. He splits his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Washington, DC.

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