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The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes Hardcover – January 27, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 172 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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)
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From The New Yorker

When a huge oil reserve was discovered at Spindletop, in southeast Texas, in 1901, the state was an inward-looking �hell with cows� built around lumber, cotton, and cattle. In this riveting history, Burrough charts the decades-long rush that made Texas oil into a political and economic powerhouse through the lives of the four great barons: Hugh Roy Cullen, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson, and H. L. Hunt. Each began his foray into oil as a wildcatter, striking it rich through a combination of intuition and bravado. The fortunes of the Big Four swelled during the Second World War, when the United States was the world�s leading producer of crude, but by the nineteen-eighties Middle Eastern oil was ascendant, and the barons� legacies had �dissolved into a sordid litany of debauchery, family feuds, scandals, and murder.� Burrough brings each of his outsized subjects brilliantly to life, pitching their individual epics against a grand narrative of rise and decline.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1St Edition edition (January 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201994
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201998
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Bryan Burrough is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of three previous books.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book takes on a subject that has been neglected for far too long. To understand conservative Texas today, you really need an education on the men that shaped it, namely ..Hunt, Cullen, Murchison, and Richardson. All four of these men are uniquely Texan, good and bad. Cullen is by far the most philanthropic, but in many ways the least enteresting, he lived a mostly quite life in Houston's enclave of wealth, River Oaks, and gave away 90 percent of his fortune. What I find most interesting, is that this most conservative of men, gave millions to Texas Southern, Houston's traditionally African American university; he also funded the University of Houston, it's not an understatement to call him Mr. Houston. H.L. Hunt is by far the most interesting, but by far the least philanthropic, Im not sure he ever gave to anything but the Klan, but his three families and all his silly ideas are so hilarious, you really have to give it to the guy for being colorful..Hurt's book on H.L. Hunt is fantastic..his meantion of H.L.'s "creeping" is the limit. As for Richardson, he was in may ways the quenticential Wildcatter, he had the look, the charm, and the bravado, and his collection of Western memorabilia is amazing. Murchison, on the other hand, was more like a brilliant accountant, and look liked one, he was the least like a traditional Wildcatter. This book also delves into the lives of the offspring of these iconic men. Murchisons son, of course founded the Dallas Cowboys, the subsequently, partied all the money away, Richardson's Bass family, has had their share of scandel, divorces et.al. and of course Hunts son's tried to corner the silver market in the 80's..talk about chutzpa and his son Lamar co founded the American Football League and owned the Kansas City Chiefs.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
The rich Texas oil people have always been a source of fascination to most all of us. In this new book, Bryan Burrough gives us the history of the oil rich. He was a co-author, with John Helyar, of the exciting book"Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco." He is also a native of Texas.

He leads us through the lives of the Texan oil rich, Roy Cullen of Houston, Sid Richardson of Fort Worth, and Clint Murchison and H. L. Hunt of Dallas.

"If Texas Oil had a Mount Rushmore, their faces would adorn it," Burrough writes. "A good ol' boy. A scold. A genius. A bigamist. Known in their heyday as the Big Four, they became the founders of the greatest Texas family fortunes, headstrong adventurers who rose from nowhere to take turns being acclaimed America's wealthiest man."

You'll enjoy the stories that can only happen in Texas. For example, you'll see Hunt going between his three families, Cullen in a a war bond drive that and another wealthy Texan wearing and throwing away $100 bills as bow ties.

I found this to be a well researched book. It's fast and exciting reading. It gives you a look at contemporary history but, at the same time, a personal look into the lives of those who lived large from the fruits of the black gold that poured from the Texas landscape.

Highly recommended.

- Susanna K. Hutcheson
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides considerable detail about an important slice of 20th Century Americana viz., the emergence of Texas as a economic, social, and political influence in America. In the classic sense of fact be stranger than fiction, this story almost tells itself and Bryan Burrough does an admirable job of synthesizing the various elements of the story into an American epic tale. I found the book at times too heavy on detail, as though the author insists on sharing all the research he worked so hard to obtain. The book also suffers from a bit of temporal arrogance as it looks back on early and mid 20th Century history with a 21st Century sensibility, which tends to depict everything in a critical light rather than a contemporary context. Certainly a worthwhile read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
You might be tempted to read this book to better understand the oil industry or how Texas went from populism to conservatism or even how one might go about cornering the world market on a precious metal. Certainly you would learn about all these topics by reading The Big Rich. But you would be missing the point. The point of The Big Rich is a Texas-size good time. Why? Because the crazy factor is through the roof.

The Big Rich in question are mainly the Big Four: Sid Richardson, Roy Cullen, Clint Murchison and H.L. Hunt and their families with occasional appearances by a "lesser" oil millionaires. Not a single one of them acquired their wealth in a boring manner. Physical derring-do, financial brinkmanship and fantastic luck all play a role in striking oil and amassing incomprehensibly large fortunes. There's something innocent and charming about the antics of the Big Four - opening fancy hotels in the middle of nowhere or creating their own private clubhouse for the boys, at age 30 - at least the antics that don't involve H.L. Hunt and his bigamous desire to propagate his genes at widely as possible. H.L. is quite the character or "crank" as he describes himself. I'd substitute "creep" in place of "crank" but there's no doubt that he'd be happy to drink someone else's milkshake given the opportunity.

The fun hits the stratosphere when the second generation of big rich takes the stage. Bunker and Lamar Hunt are nearly as loony as dear old dad in their wacky hi-jinks such as the actual physical storage of a large percentage of the world's silver and their freelance wiretapping. Baron "Ricky" di Portanova seems to have been Patient Zero when it comes to the disease of EuroTrash complete with wife named Ljuba, pet monkey and marital pep talks from Kirk Douglas.
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