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

Daniel Schulman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (242 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


"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

About the Author

Daniel Schulman is a senior editor in the Washington bureau 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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2706 KB
  • Print Length: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 20, 2014)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,590 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
96 of 108 people found the following review helpful
The Koch Brothers. Almost a metaphor today in certain circles, and depending upon your persuasion they might be viewed as either the biggest threat to our democracy that exists today (this might be the view from some Democratic party seats), or they might be considered the greatest heroes currently active in politics (from Tea Party or Libertarian seats).

Either way, this book really fills in a lot of details regarding just exactly who these men are, where they came from, and what their objectives are and how they are going about them. It's an important story, because the Koch family is today probably the single most influential private group in our domestic politics (they are said to have funnelled a staggering $400M into our most recent election cycle, through their various groups and channels - more than the Republican Party itself).

Believing in Libertarian principles - free market, with no government interference in the economy - David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party's candidate for Vice President in 1980, and Charles Koch has supported the party for many years. And as Libertarians, with beliefs and political views that are not always in line with many traditional conservative Republican positions, nevertheless the Koch brothers have become hugely influential in Republican politics in recent years. The book explains how this has come about - partially due to the intersection of some key issues where the Koch's Libertarian views agree with current Republican views, and partially due to the demonization of the Koch brothers by the current Democratic party, which may have in effect driven many Republican politicians into their camp.

Some history regarding the Koch family, which begins with the father, Fred Koch.
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50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly Good June 1, 2014
This doesn't show up as an Amazon Verified Purchase because Amazon was not stocking it, so I had to look elsewhere. . .

Anyway: I almost passed on this book because while I definitely wanted to know more about the Koch Brothers and their rise in the corporate world and their influence on politics, I was nervous because the author is an editor at Mother Jones. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I didn't want to read a paranoid Maddow-esque hatchet job.

As it turned out, I had nothing to fear. Schulman has written an incredibly even-handed, empathic look at these men--and how they became who they became. The most interesting thing is that, at least in his portrayal, the Koch brothers' political involvement really does seem to be motivated by principle, not by their own corporate interests. The really, really believe in these libertarian ideals, without hypocrisy. As for the infighting: It struck me as more sad than anything, and Schulman contextualizes it extremely well in terms of their childhoods.

Honestly: I think if a writer for The National Review had written this, conservatives would love it and think that it was great.

The writing is very crisp and the narrative well-structured. Just a really great book about some of the most important people in American life.
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144 of 179 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a Grisham novel, but REAL! May 19, 2014
By Ken
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Way too many plots, subplots, twists and turns to do Dan Shulman's book justice in a short review. We hear about the political spending of Charles and David in the news, but there is oh so much more to this family. Two other brothers who are interesting in their own right, offices being bugged, people being threatened, a massive family squabble and above all, profits. Charles Koch is portrayed as a tyrant at the helm. He hates the government with a passion, loves nothing or anything more than money, and doesn't seem to care who gets hurt, dies, is cheated or stolen from as long as he comes out on top. This guy makes J.R. Ewing look like a Boy Scout. It would be great reading if it was fiction, but knowing that it's all true just makes it pathetic.
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not a hit piece...... May 28, 2014
By ictks
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
My assumption on purchasing this book was that it would be a hit piece and was pleasantly surprised that it is not. I found it very even handed. No doubt, there are bad things about this family and their actions as with all familys, but there is also good. A product of their dysfunctional home with an overbearing controlling father, you could expect no less. The book goes into detail as to the making of Charles and his brothers. Their accomplishments and their downfalls. Definitely an interesting read. The old adage of having more money than god doesn't ensure happiness is apparent here even if the boys are unaware of it.
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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting from beginning to end May 22, 2014
By Karoli
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Don't assume you know everything about the Koch family until you've read this book. Schulman treats the Kochs fairly and objectively throughout, but with enough detail to allow readers to make their own conclusion.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It turned out to be a fascinating biography June 8, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I'm not usually a fan of biographies, and I was skeptical in general as to whether any book about the Koch brothers could be objective rather than heavily biased for or against them. But I downloaded a sample to my Kindle and was immediately hooked. Author Daniel Schulman appears to have done a careful job of in-depth research covering both the good and the bad of the family's history. Measured against the parts that I personally know about or have heard about from friends, it rings pretty true.

Importantly, the book shows that the Koch brothers are complex human beings, not the demons which their political opponents try to characterize them as. They are extremely intelligent and motivated. (As someone whose years at M.I.T. didn't quite overlap those of the Kochs', I'm certain that they didn't earn their degrees back then based on family influence.) The libertarian beliefs of David and Charles are deep-seated and based on a principled desire to maximize human liberty and achieve a freer and more prosperous society. Whether you agree or disagree with their specific political ideas, Schulman demonstrates that it's pretty hard to stereotype them as traditional conservatives when they also support so many civil liberties issues such as gay marriage and marijuana legalization and are opposed to foreign interventionism and wars.

The most interesting question which the book raised for me involved the endless fraternal infighting among the Koch brothers. On the one hand it seems tragic that there should have been so much jealousy and rancor and intrigue for so long. When you have that much money, isn't that enough to satisfy anyone without having to attack family members?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Entertaining & objectively written
Published 3 days ago by Eaglecrest
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
An excellent read about some really scary people
Published 12 days ago by DKR'R
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating background overview, with less "spin" and hyperfocus than...
This book is a biography of the four Koch brothers: from their birth to their "sunset years" (or more specifically the publication of the book in 2014), and also a brief... Read more
Published 13 days ago by C. Kollars
4.0 out of 5 stars What an eye opener! The Koch brothers are involved ...
What an eye opener! The Koch brothers are involved in everything.
Published 23 days ago by Vicky J.
4.0 out of 5 stars Fair & Balanced Portrayal
While the Koch brothers will not like all this book has to offer, it does portray them as real 3-dimensional people with good and not-so-good character traits. Read more
Published 23 days ago by VinceT
5.0 out of 5 stars Can understand the Koch brothers a bit better and why adopted their...
Very well written, readable book. Can understand the Koch brothers a bit better and why adopted their Libertarian ways. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Linda K. Shoults
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivated By The Koch's
Listened to the book via Audible and then purchased it for a brother-in-law for the perfect birthday gift.
Published 1 month ago by Doris
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting childhood foundation, two directions internalized related...
Interesting childhood foundation, two directions internalized related to use of litigation, economic principles of Austiran and Adam Smith became drivers if business, failure in... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gary Rombeck
5.0 out of 5 stars Read all about it.
A very enjoyable read. They probably look in the "Want ads" under "Politicians for sale." Two very despicable people. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Richard A. Bravo
3.0 out of 5 stars More like reading the newspaper
It had too many quotes for other sources and not enough personal life of the sons of Wichita.
What about how they felt or emotion in the book. More like reading the newspaper!
Published 1 month ago by marion mcelroy
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