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The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country Hardcover – February 5, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

McCartney (Friends in High Places: The Bechtel Story) does an efficient job of narrating 20th-century America's first great federal corruption scandal. Petroleum preserves (or domes) were set aside on public lands in California and Wyoming, to be kept until needed by the navy. During 1921, President Harding's secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, took control of the lands from Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby and leased two domes—Teapot Dome in Wyoming and California's Elk Hills—to Harry Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Co. and Edward Doheny's Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Co., respectively. Concurrently, Fall received personal payments from the two men totaling $404,000, some of which he distributed to underlings who helped with the transactions. Scandal ensued, continuing through the presidency of Harding's successor, Calvin Coolidge. Congressional investigations were held; Coolidge appointed special prosecutors, and in 1929 a federal court found Fall guilty of bribery, fining him $100,000 and sentencing him to a year in prison. Though McCartney adds nothing new to the story, he has a solid grasp of it in this retelling. (Feb. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A terrific tale that resonates nearly a century on, at a time when many people are still wondering about the connections between Big Oil and politicians at the highest levels.”
–Jon Meacham, author of Franklin and Winston

“This is a story that has it all–a Jazz Age background, a pleasure-loving president surrounded by booze and chorus girls, boomtown capitalists from the Wild West, [and] conniving politicians. . . . [Laton McCartney has] a certain zest for Teapot’s sordid comedy [and] delivers fresh, arresting portraits of the main players, some of them lovable rogues, others beady-eyed scoundrels.”
–The New York Times

“The most thorough treatment of the scandals to date.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Titillating, tantalizing . . . The book reads like a novel. McCartney’s cast of characters jumps off the page.”
–Baltimore Sun

“A cautionary tale of what happens when corrupt and indifferent public officials give an industry undue influence over public policy.”
–The Denver Post

“Fascinating reading.”
–St. Louis Post-Dispatch

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400063167
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063161
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on February 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Laton McCartney's The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steel the Country is one of the best investigations into this scandal in a long while. Many Americans may have heard of this in their school history classes but may not realize the far reaching implications of the oil scandal nor the impact it had on American politics for years after. It is not dissimilar to the impact that Watergate had on politics for a decade after the breakin.

At one time huge oil reserves had been set aside for the U. S. Navy; commercial drilling was not allowed and the oil barons of the day were constantly looking for ways to get their hands on this precious set aside.
Eventually a fortune in contributions were pumped into Harding's presidential campaign. After the successful election Harding appointed Albert Fall as Secretary of the Interior who was intent is passing out oil leases to the here-to-fore oil reserves. And it nearly worked.

It wasn't long before the deal was made public knowledge and the recriminations began. Americans found out just how far reaching the scheme had reached. Powerful politicians had been paid off as were powerful newpaper men. Some even fled the country as more and more of the scandal was made public.

The Teapot Dome scandal was, for its time, one of the most significant events in American political history. McCartney's telling of this story is generally well done, though at times it does seem to mire down in details. Still, McCartney's research is dead on as is his ability to tell this complicated story.

This would be a good beach read.

Peace to all.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very well-done story about oilmen, Warren G. Harding, and just what money can buy if you "invest" it properly. By today's standards, a million dollars laundered into a political campaign, or $230K delivered in cash to the Secretary of the Interior is impressive: even more so if you remember Sherman Adams (Eisenhower's White House Chief of Staff) scandal over a gift of a vicuna overcoat. And, of course, we're talking about 1920 dollars here. McCartney's book has lots of villains, but not as many heroes: Montana's Senator Thomas Walsh being the star.

The bribery and corruption did not unravel easily. The cover-ups and foot-dragging is reminiscent of Watergate. The outcome of Watergate was far from preordained--without the revelation about the White House tapes, the investigation might have fizzled out, since the public was starting to lose interest. The Teapot Dome hearings followed an eerily similar pattern--fizzling out, waning public interest, etc, until, like Watergate, new life was breathed into the scandal. Without the perseverance of Walsh and a few others, nothing would have come out of the hearings, and Teapot Dome would be forgotten today. Of course, if that had happened, when you take your vacation this summer you wouldn't be visiting the privately-owned No Visitors Allowed resorts for the very wealthy where Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc, used to be.

Some things are a little different today. One of the startling things in the book is the servile deference to rich oilmen at the hearings. When asked a question at the hearings a common reply was "None of your business!" and the senators would take this lying down. The only thing recently that might rival this is the fawning shown to Roger Clemens at the recent hearings on Capitol Hill.
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Laton McCartney's new book, "The Teapot Dome Scandal" is a well-crafted look at the Harding White House and the tales of woe which followed it. Until Watergate, this was America's "finest" scandal, and one that would have brought down a president had he not had the good fortune of dying along the way. McCartney is detailed to a fault but his picture is thorough and worth every page.

Teapot Dome was about oil and politics and the comparisons to today's administration are not insignificant. President Harding, most believe, should never have been installed in that office and once he began, his administration unfolded rapidly. McCartney focuses in on the "baddies"...Albert Fall, Harding's Interior Secretary, being the worst of the lot. But oilmen Edward Doheny and Harry Sinclair round out the trio and their stories are riveting. Of course, there are good guys, too... the exposing of Teapot Dome would never have gotten very far without the persistence of Montana Senator, Thomas Walsh, whose brilliance unnerved many of his Republican colleagues. In the end, there were no winners, it seemed, and the "Roaring Twenties" flickered out just as the investigations came to an end.

McCartney has a crisp narrative style and although the cast of characters seems almost too big to keep track of without a scorecard, he keeps the story going resolutely. It's not hard to imagine that every generation or so, American politics gets down and dirty enough to have one of these scandals and one wonders at the end of the Bush administration if certain illegalities will come to light. Teapot Dome was the mother of them all, and McCartney's book is highly recommended.
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