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The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes

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Overview

"What's not to enjoy about a book full of monstrous egos, unimaginable sums of money, and the punishment of greed and shortsightedness?"

Phenomenal reviews and sales greeted the hardcover publication of The Big Rich, New York Times bestselling author Bryan Burrough's spellbinding chronicle of Texas oil. Weaving together the multigenerational sagas of the industry's four wealthiest families, Burrough brings to life the men known in their day as the Big Four: Roy Cullen, H. L. ...

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The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes

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Overview

"What's not to enjoy about a book full of monstrous egos, unimaginable sums of money, and the punishment of greed and shortsightedness?"

Phenomenal reviews and sales greeted the hardcover publication of The Big Rich, New York Times bestselling author Bryan Burrough's spellbinding chronicle of Texas oil. Weaving together the multigenerational sagas of the industry's four wealthiest families, Burrough brings to life the men known in their day as the Big Four: Roy Cullen, H. L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson, all swaggering Texas oil tycoons who owned sprawling ranches and mingled with presidents and Hollywood stars. Seamlessly charting their collective rise and fall, The Big Rich is a hugely entertaining account that only a writer with Burrough's abilities-and Texas upbringing-could have written.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Texas oil secured the fortunes of numerous Lone Star businessmen, a football team or two, and more than one White House–bound politician. In The Big Rich, Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough traces the "black gold" boom through the lives of the postwar oil barons known as the Big Four: H. L. Hunt (1889-1974), Roy Cullen (1881-1957), Sid Richardson (1891-1951), and Clint Murchison (1895-1969). This respected, award-winning journalist doesn't keep his subjects' secrets. He identifies who among the quartet was a bigamist; who conducted dirty deals with J. Edgar Hoover; and whose fortune fell victim to family squabbles. Required reading about the second Robber Baron period.
Mimi Swartz
Those who don't know these stories will find The Big Rich lively reading, replete as it is with the requisite anecdotes of Texas excess…But Burrough, with his gifts for both synthesis and lyricism, brings more to the table than that. His set pieces describing the events at Spindletop, the gusher that started it all, and the rise and fall of the wildcatter Glenn McCarthy (the model for Ferber's Jett Rink) are impeccably rendered, as are the tales of many other fabled characters. Burrough has also done estimable new reporting, showing links between Texas money and national politics that stretch back far earlier than the days of Lyndon B. Johnson
—The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
It is one of Burrough's aims in The Big Rich to separate truth from stereotype, a task he performs meticulously and occasionally amusingly. A native Texan…he is slightly defensive about his home state but sufficiently clear-eyed to recognize wretched excess when he sees it…a cautionary tale about the evanescence of wealth and glory, but it's also first-class entertainment.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Capitalism at its most colorful oozes across the pages of this engrossing study of independent oil men. Vanity Fair special correspondent Burrough (coauthor, Barbarians at the Gate) profiles the Big Four oil dynasties of H.L. Hunt, Roy Cullen, Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson, along with their cronies, rivals, families and, in Hunt's case, bigamous second and third families. The saga begins heroically in the early 20th-century oil boom, with wildcatters roaming the Texas countryside drilling one dry hole after another, scrounging money and fending off creditors until gushers of black gold redeem them. Their second acts as garish nouveaux riches with strident right-wing politics are entertaining, if less dramatic. Decline sets in as rising production costs and cheaper Middle Eastern oil erode profits, and a feckless, feuding second generation squanders family fortunes on debauchery and reckless investment-H.L.'s sons' efforts in 1970 to corner the silver market bankrupted them and almost took down Wall Street. This is a portrait of capitalism as white-knuckle risk taking, yielding fruitful discoveries for the fathers, but only sterile speculation for the sons-a story that resonates with today's economic upheaval. (Jan. 27)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Burrough (special correspondent, Vanity Fair; coauthor, with John Helyar, Barbarians at the Gate) details the multigenerational saga of the "Big Four" Texas oil families of Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson, from the discovery of oil under Beaumont, TX, in 1901 to the demolition of the infamous Shamrock Hotel, the last bastion of oil-fueled Texas excess, in 1987. Since Burrough favors the human-interest angle, the narrative really hits its stride when the focus moves to the Hunt family in the 1960s. The real-life inspiration for the television show Dallas, the Hunts prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. In addition to splurging and feuding as only billionaires can, they (allegedly) masterminded the JFK assassination and later threw Wall Street into chaos with their fixation on converting their family fortune into silver ingots, precipitating what at the time was the largest bailout in U.S. history. This book is an entertaining look at the larger-than-life histories of the incomprehensibly rich and powerful. While it's an extensively researched synthesis of a time and a place, it avoids a dry, academic tone through the natural drama of these miniature empires and the truly bizarre characters that inhabited them. Recommended for all libraries.
—Robert Perret

Kirkus Reviews
An "epitaph," as Texas expat and Vanity Fair special correspondent Burrough (Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 2004, etc.) calls it, for a storied, moneyed time that defines the Lone Star State's self-image. No matter how the fortune was made, the pattern is the same: The first hardscrabble generation fights, thieves and kills to get rich; the second becomes respectable, makes lots more money and gives money away; the third generation drinks, snorts and whores its way to the poorhouse. Thus, with some tailoring, the course of Burrough's "big rich" families: the Hunts, Richardsons, Cullens and Murchisons, who came out of the West Texas dust or the South Texas swamps to make astounding fortunes, turn Dallas into a prairie paradise and build mansions that you could lose a herd of cows in. The first generation, writes Burrough, was "the original Beverly Hillbillies, counting their millions around the cement pond as they ogled themselves on the corner of Time." But they were no simpletons. H.L. Hunt made much of his money not in oil but in real estate. "He was a strange man," writes Burrough, "a loner who lived deep inside his own peculiar mind," and who was convinced that he had superhuman qualities. He also had a deep, almost innate understanding of how markets and politics work, and he wielded tremendous power after earning a fortune in a time of severe economic depression precisely because other oil operators did not spend money exploring. Hunt did, living a few secret lives on the side, only to see his fortune dwindle in the hands of his heirs and eventually collapse in the oil-eating recession of 1979. Others of Burrough's "big four" (including theBass family, tied in with the Richardsons, last heard from funding research into space colonies) arced along similar rise-and-decline-and-fall paths-but not, as he writes, before they helped install the likes of George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Phil Gramm and other oil-friendly politicos into office. Full of schadenfreude and speculation-and solid, timely history too.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116820
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 81,935
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryan Burrough is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and the author of three previous books. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, he is a three-time winner of the John Hancock Award for excellence in financial journalism. Burrough lives in Summit, New Jersey, with his wife and their two sons.

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Table of Contents

1 "There's Something Down There ..." 1

2 The Creekologist 15

3 Sid and Clint 32

4 The Bigamist and the Boom 52

5 The Worst of Times, the Best of Times 83

6 The Big Rich 101

7 Birth of the Ultraconservatives 126

8 War and Peace 147

9 The New World 164

10 "A Clumsy and Immeasurable Power" 202

11 "Troglodyte, Genus Texana" 229

12 The Golden Years 250

13 Rising Sons 273

14 Sun, Sex, Spaghetti - and Murder 308

15 Watergate, Texas-style 334

16 The Last Boom 355

17 The Great Silver Caper 387

18 The Bust 406

Epilogue 433

Thank Yous 439

Notes 441

Index 457

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 38 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

(11)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2011

    Left wing book

    Interesting book to read, but the author makes it quit clear of his left wing bias against conservatives. The author is a liberal and he must of mentioned the words right wing extremist and racist right wingers on almost every page on the last half of the book. Do not recomend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2010

    Historical but reads like fiction

    I came upon this book somewhat by chance. As a native Texan and Houstonian (growing up there in the 1950's and 60's) plus living in West Texas for a time and knowing quite a few of the locales mentioned, I found this book to be highly interesting and entertaining, even though Texas is portrayed in a bad light at times. In contrast to comments by a couple of previous reviewers, I thought the book was easily readable and I noted no misspelled Texas towns. [The only suspect along those lines was the date of San Jacinto Day, given as April 22nd but in reality April 21st]. There was quite a bit of dissipation in the lives of the Big Rich but keep in mind the benefits of their charitable contributions (the Texas Medical Center, University of Houston, other university buildings and programs, etc) and the economic growth generated, helping the average person.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2009

    The Big Rich and the Big Men who made History in the Texas Oil Patch

    This is a great read for anyone interested in the history of Texas Oil and the men and their families that became legends. The book's story is centered around the bigger than life H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson, and Roy Cullen and their rise in riches from oil and their influence in State and National politics.

    You will laugh at the many unbelievable tales and not want to put this book down.

    Get ready for a rip roaring history that is big as Texas and the men who made it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 1, 2013

    excellent

    well written very informative and precise

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  • Posted July 25, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This is a great book to read. The writer attempts to capture an

    This is a great book to read. The writer attempts to capture an epoch in history that is now gone but still a part of American mythos - That of the wildcatter striking it big in the heart of Texas ie The Texas oilman/tycoon. he does a very good job of it dealing with an Texas from between the wars until the first Bush administration and peopling his story with the larger than life characters that made it all happen. But the book is more the story of Texas Oil and the effect it had on the state both good and bad. In the end I came away more with an understanding of Texas and it's relation to big oil that I had never considered before. A great read of big people in a big state playing on a big stage.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2010

    Excellant Read

    I was not raised in Texas but have lived in Houston since the 80's so this book was very interesting. I liked learning about how Texas came about & how influencial the oil industry has been. I have passed this on to many friends who have seemed to like the book as well. Easy, interesting reading

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2009

    The Big Rich

    The book describes how the big rich Texas oilmen came from modest backgrounds and took big risks. When they came up in the world they forgot about their backgrounds and contributed to right-wing causes.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2009

    Not Well Researched

    I quit on page 37. Why do you ask? The lack of researching the correct spelling of towns in Texas. This Texan is proud of their state. Incorrectly spelling names of towns is not tolerated well by this Texan. How can I rely on the rest of the information to be correct? In this day and age there is too much technology available for research to spell the name of any town wrong. I plan to send this book to the author, who lives in another state.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2009

    Why are gas prices so high? Read on.

    If you have complained about the price of energy this is a "must read".

    "The Big Rich" is a wonderful synopsis of the history of Texas oil and the players that made it happen.

    The book also details the influence this group of individuals have on Presidents, Congress and the decisions that affect all Americans and how this came about.

    If this was a novel you might not believe what goes on...but, it's reality.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Recommended

    O, to be in Texas now that oil's there! This book is an ambitious attempt to explain the Texas phenomenon: "Big Rich," i.e., those men who got enormously wealthy very quickly courtesy of black gold. It's a hoot reading about them and how they made and spent their money. The author also details how some of them lost their wealth almost immediately and how the second or third generations ran the wells dry. Alas, while very informative, the book is flawed because it tries to cover so much. The subjects just don't mesh together preferring to lead their individual lives without reference to one another. From the reader's viewpoint, this means following any number of story lines and family lines to the point of confusion. Nevertheless, I do recommend this book-its good points outweigh the bad.

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    Posted March 8, 2010

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