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92 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the most sophisticated and effective political influencers in current day American politics
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)...
Published 8 months ago by Phil in Magnolia

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Impressed With These Men
I found the book interesting. I didn't know anything about them previously nor had I ever heard of any of them. But after getting not that far into the book I came to one conclusion. These men are incredibly wealthy in the material sense but they are spiritually bankrupt in my opinion. The one son has 5 children by 4 different women. Gracious! They were taught business...
Published 3 months ago by So. Calif book reader


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92 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the most sophisticated and effective political influencers in current day American politics, May 22, 2014
This review is from: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (Hardcover)
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. Early in his business career, he worked in Stalinist Soviet Union and helped to modernize the Soviet oil industry and build oil refineries there in the late 1920's and early 1930's. (Joseph Stalin was the dictator of the Soviet Union beginning in the mid-1920s).

Fred Koch returned home, having made several million dollars in the Soviet Union, in effect launching his business empire. He also had been profoundly impacted by what he saw there first hand - the terrible living conditions and repression of the Stalin regime - and this convinced him of the need to defeat the spread of communism and influenced his political beliefs from that point on. Later in his life, Fred Koch was 'in the room' in 1958 when the John Birch society was first created, and he is considered to be the co-founder of that society, along with Robert W. Welch Jr. (this is the society that at one time essentially called President Eisenhower a communist).

The Koch family eventually separated from the John Birch society, and this in part led the family to create their own non profit foundation, among other things supporting what we now consider Libertarianism (those efforts led by Charles Koch in the 1960's). And although Libertarian beliefs have been a part of political discussions since the late 18th century, the present day Libertarian Party in the United States was founded in 1971, and it has offered candidates in all Presidential Elections in the U.S. since 1972. The Charles Koch foundation was transformed in 1976 into the present day Cato Institution, which continues to be a leading Conservative and Libertarian movement think-tank.

When someone today mentions the "Koch Brothers", they generally mean the two brothers Charles and David Koch. There are in fact four brothers altogether, with oldest brother Frederick, and David's twin brother Bill, having little involvement in the political activities which are principally led by Charles as well as David who has more recently joined his brother Charles in these efforts.

On the business side, the Koch family owns or controls a vast network of corporations as part of their empire. Koch Industries has operations in 60 countries, with close to 100,000 employees, total revenues of $115B annually, including commodities trading, petrochemicals, Georgia Pacific corporation, and many other businesses. The book describes some of the internal family feuds that have taken place, regarding control of the family company and disputes between the brothers along those lines.

The most interesting parts of the book to me were the descriptions of how the Koch brothers have become incredibly effective in influencing domestic U.S. politics through their vast array of non-profit organizations and fund raising network (as mentioned earlier, $400M funnelled into most recent election, through these various groups and channels), including Freedom Partners, and American's for Prosperity. This financial and organizational strength has led them to become de facto Republican "Kingmakers" in many cases, even though, as mentioned earlier, they do not agree with mainstream Republicans on many key party issues. The Koch brothers are nothing if not pragmatic when it comes to doing what is necessary in order to further their objectives.

Background on the Koch brothers views with respect to government and public policy are also illuminating. In line with their Libertarian beliefs, their greatest interest is in economic issues, and Koch has been quoted as saying that he views government as "only a night watchman" that should exist solely to protect private property rights and preserve the laws of supply and demand. At times in the past they have expressed the beliefs that vast portions of the U.S. government should be dismantled - for example, in the 1980's they had advocated eliminating social security and also getting rid of the income tax. They are very much against any and all government entitlements (including government handouts to corporations).

The book gives many examples of how Koch Industries and the brothers themselves are strongly against essentially all regulations, especially including any environmental regulations. They support skepticism of human actions as causing climate change. They seek to dismantle environmental policies and regulations. This support of groups who put forward views that seek to cast doubt on the existence of climate change would seem to be an almost contradictory position for them to be taking, given that in many other ways the Koch brothers do support scientific efforts; their own university training has been in engineering and science, and they are not generally considered to be anti-science in their philosophies. Remember though that their business interests continue to be heavily involved with the oil and related industries; and those are not industries generally considered to be at the leading edge of environmental efforts!

The role of the Koch brothers in creating the Tea Party movement is also quite interesting. They are credited with providing organizational support, funding, and ideological agendas to the Tea Party. This came partially from a long standing feeling by the Koch brothers and others, that socialism was just around the corner every time any new government initiative involving regulation or control was proposed. The book suggests that this ideology, viewing these regulatory developments as threatening the country, can probably be traced as far back as their involvement in the John Birch society. It all was taken to a new and higher level when Obama was elected President, and groups such as the Koch run American's for Prosperity then helped to create the Tea Party and ensure it was successfully launched.

Author Daniel Schulman makes a convincing argument that the Koch family is probably the most influential private family in our politics today. He also feels that this influence is likely to continue far into the future, due to the organizations that they have established and funded. He compares them to prominent families in the history of our country such as the Carnegie's, or the Rockefellers, with impact that goes well beyond politics and includes business, medical research, and other areas.

It's a compelling, interesting, and sometimes concerning, story. Five stars.
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142 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a Grisham novel, but REAL!, May 19, 2014
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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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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly Good, June 1, 2014
This review is from: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (Hardcover)
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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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not a hit piece......, May 28, 2014
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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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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting from beginning to end, May 22, 2014
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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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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Four Capitalists, May 30, 2014
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Though I live in Kansas there was much about this story of the Koch family that was new to me. While showing the extent to which wealth has influence, there is also a very human aspect that makes the brothers' actions more understandable. I was surprised that this book did not leave me with a totally negative impression of this vilified family, while not sugar-coating any of their actions. Schulman writes wonderfully and keeps the reader interested in the flow of events.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It turned out to be a fascinating biography, June 8, 2014
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? On the other hand, it seems that it was exactly those combative traits which Fred Koch cultivated in his sons that led them to have the successful careers which they did. Was the bad essential to the good in creating their financial empires? Or was it an unfortunate byproduct which prevented them from being even more successful?

Overall this is definitely a fascinating biography, and I learned many new things about the Kochs which I hadn't been aware of (or only dimly knew). It was well worth buying and reading, and I recommend it highly.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Tremendous, May 25, 2014
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This new Koch bio is magnificent: author is honest enough to come to admire Charles and the whole story is told in an epic sweep with all the drama, irony and poignancy that anyone could hope for. I've known a fair number of the people he either quotes or talks about, and he really has done a terrific job.
His first book, but he shows he can handle a complex story with panache.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Impressed With These Men, October 13, 2014
This review is from: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (Hardcover)
I found the book interesting. I didn't know anything about them previously nor had I ever heard of any of them. But after getting not that far into the book I came to one conclusion. These men are incredibly wealthy in the material sense but they are spiritually bankrupt in my opinion. The one son has 5 children by 4 different women. Gracious! They were taught business acumen quickly in life but it seems the moral were overlooked. Another son gets cancer and just pours money into treatment and centers to help others, which is a good thing, but he doesn't learn any life lessons from it. All he wants to do to keep his life going. They do not know forgiveness. They sue eachother over and over, even bringing their mother into lawsuits and are still fighting over this and that. Political views aside I am not impressed with the Koch brothers. I think actually Frederick is the most sensible one. He stays out of it all as much as he can.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Kochs: Loved By Some, Hated By Others, Ignored By Few, May 28, 2014
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Shane Kastler (Lake Charles, LA) - See all my reviews
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In his book Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful & Private Dynasty, author Daniel Schulman tells the story of the Koch family whose patriarch Fred Koch initially made his fortune as an Engineer/ Entrepreneur in the oil industry. A native of tiny, rural Quanah, Texas; Koch would eventually earn a degree from prestigious M.I.T. then travel the world as a global businessman. Some of his travels took him to Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, where he saw first hand the devastating effects of communistic governmental control and learned what it was like to have a government spy follow him wherever he went. The experience deeply affected Koch.
Eventually Koch came to loathe communism and devote much of his life to fighting it. As a founding member of the John Birch Society, and also through a booklet he wrote called "A Business Man Looks at Communism" Koch fought against the perils of an ideology that he felt was threatening the world and had infiltrated America. Koch was a committed free market capitalist; a belief that in large part he passed on to his four sons.
Fredrick, Charles, David, and Bill Koch grew up in Wichita, Kansas as sons of wealth and prestige. But Fred saw to it that they didn't act as such saying he didn't want his boys to be "country club bums." They were taught to work hard and spent many hours doing manual labor on the family farm. Sibling rivalry was a constant way of life, eventually bearing fruit and creating tension well into adulthood. Fredrick, the oldest, grew up to become an art aficionado, who was much different than the other three boys. Rumored to be a homosexual, he was much more mild-mannered; showing no interest in the family business.
Charles, David, and Bill on the other hand, all followed in their fathers footsteps; earning engineering degrees from M.I.T. Being slowly groomed by his father to take over the business, Charles came back to Wichita and was thrust into leadership upon the sudden death of his father in 1967. Eventually, David and Bill would also work for Koch, which under Charles' talented leadership would rise to become the largest private business in America. The Koch family had an incredible knack for business. But they also came to be known for many other things as well.
In the 1960s and 70s Charles came to be a believer in the Austrian school of economics with it's free market principles and it's disdain for government intervention. Charles also adopted a libertarian political philosophy which flows naturally from the Austrian economic mindset. His beliefs would soon influence his two younger brothers (David much more than Bill) and in 1980 David ran as Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket. Charles would continue to devote much time and energy to spreading libertarian ideology through think tanks, universities, and non-profit educational entities; not to mention political involvement. Charles saw the government as his enemy; and eventually it was clear that the government saw him the same way.
The book portrays Koch Industries as largely thumbing it's nose at government regulations, which became ever more stringent during the 1990s of Bill Clinton. Fines and court battles were a normal part of life for Koch for many years, until eventually Charles tweaked his mindset and tried harder to work with the government. The book quotes Charles, in 1978, showing a clear disdain for government by saying: "We should not cave-in the moment a regulator steps foot on our doorstep. Do not cooperate voluntarily, but instead resist wherever and to whatever extent you legally can. And do so in the name of justice." (pg. 228) But eventually, being worn down by government antagonism and litigation, Charles acquiesced, at least to some extent. The author concludes that Charles eventually learned "the world he lived in was not the libertarian paradise he wanted it to be." This cold painful reality has slapped many an American in the face; and it served as a "wake up call" for Charles. His new mantra was that he wanted "10,000 percent" cooperation with all government entities. It seems as though, while Charles remained committed to political activity, he sought to step more into the "mainstream" by supporting Republican rather than purely Libertarian politicians. His libertarianism took a marked twist from being staunchly anti-government to being a major player in partisan politics. Eventually this would lead to the Koch brothers as being major enemies of the Obama administration; and them doing all within their power to keep him out of office. Efforts, which history shows, have failed.
Beyond the political activity, the book goes behind the scenes in telling many of the divisive stories that separated the Koch brothers. Fred's will left a smaller portion of the inheritance to oldest son Fredrick, who had no interest in the business anyway. Nevertheless, resentment ensued. Charles and David, who were the most like-minded of the four, would lead Koch into incredible levels of success; yet Bill would grow to begrudge them both. Bill, the most emotional and rash of the four brothers, would eventually seek revenge through litigation, causing a massive schism between he and Charles that never fully recovered. Their mother Mary was also drug into the fray as brothers Fredrick and Bill sought her intervention in "evening the score" with Charles and David. At times the brothers would hire detectives to spy on each other; and the bitter back-biting took on a soap opera-like twist that Hollywood would be hard pressed to match. In the end, a certain amount of reconciliation took place. Twins David and Bill became much more cordial; and Charles, though still somewhat resentful of Bill's actions, at least is now on semi-speaking terms with his estranged brother.
The book is an incredible story of entrepreneurial success and interpersonal turmoil. Fredrick has made a name for himself in the world of art; Charles and David in industry, philanthropy, and political involvement; and Bill through yachting (he won the 1992 America's Cup) and Oxbow Corporation (a company he started after the ugly divorce from Koch Industries). The story of the Kochs serves many examples to the watchful observer.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, it's easy to admire the Kochs business acumen and commitment to hard work. They didn't simply inherit wealth and blow it; they built upon what their father left them. From a political perspective, it's easy to see the wisdom of Charles' anti-governmental stance in his early days. In large measure his adoption of what he calls "Market Based Management" has caused Koch to be the success that it is; and such free market mentality is tantalizing to those of us who would like to see it unleashed in modern America; where constant government intrusion has left frequent disaster in its wake.
As a Christian, I must conclude with a spiritual word. Though the book has almost no spiritual content (other than mentioning Charles once read the entire Old Testament looking for leadership principles) I couldn't help but be haunted by the words of Jesus, "What good does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Matthew 16:26) I won't pretend to know of the spiritual beliefs of any of the Koch brothers; but the Bible teaches that worldly wealth is of no benefit when it comes to eternal realities. Reconciliation to God, through faith in Christ, brings the true lasting peace that seems to have largely eluded the Kochs. From my perspective, this leaves a sad legacy.
As for literary matters, I found the book quite entertaining and readable. The author being a Mother Jones magazine editor; I certainly wasn't expecting a puff piece. I was suspicious that it might be a smear job; but it seemed to be mostly objective. At times the Kochs are painted as villainous, billionaire, fat cats; while at times they are lauded for their stubborn stand on their principles and their philanthropy. In the end, I would recommend the book. As a third party observer I have no way of knowing how accurate all the private information is, but this is true of any biography. Love them or hate them, the Kochs are definitely a fascinating story. And stand poised to continue their influence for years to come.
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Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty
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