Texas oil secured the fortunes of numerous Lone Star businessmen, a football team or two, and more than one White Housebound 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.