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The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes

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In The Big Rich, bestselling author and Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough chronicles the rise and fall of one of the great economic and political powerhouses of the twentieth century—Texas oil. By weaving together the epic sagas of the industry’s four greatest fortunes, Burrough has produced an enthralling tale of money, family, and power in the American cen In The Big Rich, bestselling author and Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough chronicles the rise and fall of one of the great economic and political powerhouses of the twentieth century—Texas oil. By weaving together the epic sagas of the industry’s four greatest fortunes, Burrough has produced an enthralling tale of money, family, and power in the American century. Known in their day as the Big Four, Roy Cullen, H. L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson were all from modest backgrounds, and all became patriarchs of the wealthiest oil families in Texas. As a class they came to be known as the Big Rich, and together they created a new legend in America—the swaggering Texas oilman who owns private islands, sprawling ranches and perhaps a football team or two, and mingles with presidents and Hollywood stars. The truth more than lives up to the myth. Along with their peers, the Big Four shifted wealth and power in America away from the East Coast, sending three of their state’s native sons to the White House and largely bankrolling the rise of modern conservatism in America. H. L. Hunt became America’s richest man by grabbing Texas’s largest oilfield out from under the nose of the man who found it; he was also a lifelong bigamist. Clint Murchison entertained British royalty on his Mexican hacienda and bet on racehorses—and conducted dirty deals—with J. Edgar Hoover. Roy Cullen, an elementary school dropout, used his millions to revive the hapless Texas GOP. And Sid Richardson, the Big Four’s fun-loving bachelor, was a friend of several presidents, including, most fatefully, Lyndon Johnson. The Big Four produced offspring who frequently made more headlines, and in some cases more millions, than they did. With few exceptions, however, their fortunes came to an end in a swirl of bitter family feuds, scandals, and bankruptcies, and by the late 1980s, the era of the Big Rich was over. But as Texas native Bryan Burrough reveals in this hugely entertaining account, the profound economic, political, and cultural influence of Texas oil is still keenly felt today.


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In The Big Rich, bestselling author and Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough chronicles the rise and fall of one of the great economic and political powerhouses of the twentieth century—Texas oil. By weaving together the epic sagas of the industry’s four greatest fortunes, Burrough has produced an enthralling tale of money, family, and power in the American cen In The Big Rich, bestselling author and Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough chronicles the rise and fall of one of the great economic and political powerhouses of the twentieth century—Texas oil. By weaving together the epic sagas of the industry’s four greatest fortunes, Burrough has produced an enthralling tale of money, family, and power in the American century. Known in their day as the Big Four, Roy Cullen, H. L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson were all from modest backgrounds, and all became patriarchs of the wealthiest oil families in Texas. As a class they came to be known as the Big Rich, and together they created a new legend in America—the swaggering Texas oilman who owns private islands, sprawling ranches and perhaps a football team or two, and mingles with presidents and Hollywood stars. The truth more than lives up to the myth. Along with their peers, the Big Four shifted wealth and power in America away from the East Coast, sending three of their state’s native sons to the White House and largely bankrolling the rise of modern conservatism in America. H. L. Hunt became America’s richest man by grabbing Texas’s largest oilfield out from under the nose of the man who found it; he was also a lifelong bigamist. Clint Murchison entertained British royalty on his Mexican hacienda and bet on racehorses—and conducted dirty deals—with J. Edgar Hoover. Roy Cullen, an elementary school dropout, used his millions to revive the hapless Texas GOP. And Sid Richardson, the Big Four’s fun-loving bachelor, was a friend of several presidents, including, most fatefully, Lyndon Johnson. The Big Four produced offspring who frequently made more headlines, and in some cases more millions, than they did. With few exceptions, however, their fortunes came to an end in a swirl of bitter family feuds, scandals, and bankruptcies, and by the late 1980s, the era of the Big Rich was over. But as Texas native Bryan Burrough reveals in this hugely entertaining account, the profound economic, political, and cultural influence of Texas oil is still keenly felt today.

30 review for The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tony Daniel

    This is a fun tour. It's particularly strong on the early years of H.L. Hunt, Roy Murchison and Sid Richardson (the Bass family founder). The book loses its way a bit with the big detour through the Glenn McCarthy story (which deserves its own book). The main problem with the book is Burrough's strident liberal political correctness. It's "ultra-conservative" this and "ultra-conservative" that over and over again. Burroughs can't fathom why any of these people, whom he otherwise admires, might n This is a fun tour. It's particularly strong on the early years of H.L. Hunt, Roy Murchison and Sid Richardson (the Bass family founder). The book loses its way a bit with the big detour through the Glenn McCarthy story (which deserves its own book). The main problem with the book is Burrough's strident liberal political correctness. It's "ultra-conservative" this and "ultra-conservative" that over and over again. Burroughs can't fathom why any of these people, whom he otherwise admires, might not be political liberals, and he gives one ludicrous sociological explanation after another to account for it. The answer, of course, is that all of these folks were men and women of their times and were very much in the mainstream of their era. There is also the possibility that people like H.L Hunt, who were right about quite a few things where others were not, might possibly have been right about most of their political views, as well. That America MIGHT owe them a debt of gratitude. Burroughs thinks such an idea ludicrous. The men were political laughingstocks, he says over and over again. But if you can make it through the cloying apologies to his political masters (his editor and the reviewers, one supposes), the remainder of the book is a wonderful romp through a fascinating epoch of American history. And there are quite a few ecstatic, sordid, weird and wild moments along the way, from H.L. Hunt's THREE families (he was nearly a TRI-gamist!) to the great moments of long-delayed validation for the oilman's oilman, Sid Richardson. The book wanders thematically a bit through the stories of the second and third generations, but there are some good tales there as well, and we find out what ultimately happened to all those oil fortunes and what the descendants did with what was one of the biggest piles of loot in human history. Ultimately, I recommend this. Burroughs tells a good, long story well.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alexw

    A fascinating book about the BIG OIL BARONS. One of them took all his oil money and bought the Dallas Cowboys and bedded everyone of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Now that is what I call leading the league in my kind of scoring-ROFLMASO !!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    I’ve been on a Texas binge lately. I’ve always found the state, its history, and its people to be intriguing. And the politicians? Is there a state that can compare with Texas when one begins to list the people who have served as governor of that state? Well, maybe next-door neighbor Louisiana comes close. I read one time (and I would give credit to the source, but I don’t remember who wrote it) that, paraphrasing now, Louisiana governors had three primary responsibilities. Listed in the order of I’ve been on a Texas binge lately. I’ve always found the state, its history, and its people to be intriguing. And the politicians? Is there a state that can compare with Texas when one begins to list the people who have served as governor of that state? Well, maybe next-door neighbor Louisiana comes close. I read one time (and I would give credit to the source, but I don’t remember who wrote it) that, paraphrasing now, Louisiana governors had three primary responsibilities. Listed in the order of their importance they are: 1).to entertain; 2). to govern; and 3). to stay out of jail. (Piyush “Bobby” Jindal seems to have missed the memo. He only seems interested in number 2.) But, I digress. Texas governors include the likes of Sam Houston and “Pa” Ferguson and “Ma” Ferguson and “Pappy” O’Daniel and John Connally, and Ann Richards, and George W. Bush and Rick Perry. Top that, Louisiana. And of course, there is the giant that overshadows them all: Lyndon Baines Johnson. Never a governor, nevertheless he is one of only four people to serve in all four elected federal offices: Representative, Senator, Vice-President and President. LBJ’s impact on American politics has been so great that it has taken Robert Caro five volumes to write his biography. And that’s where I began my recent Texas marathon, by re-reading Caro’s first two volumes (if I live long enough I plan to read the other three) as well as "Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream," written by young Doris Kearns, before Goodwin was added to her name. Next came the Texas novels written by Billy Lee Brammer and Edwin “Bud” Shrake, especially Shrake, and a great study of those two writers and four of their fellow Texans in Steven L. Davis’s "Texas Literary Outlaws." And I recently finished "The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes." Shrake’s "Strange Peaches" is a novel set in Dallas just before and just after the assassination of JFK. When I read his descriptions of almost continuous parties, elaborate pranks and other excesses all fueled by booze, pot, and hard drugs, I thought that Shrake was probably guilty of employing his novelist’s license to embellish in order to punch up the story. Wrong, again. After reading "Texas Literary Outlaws" and "The Big Rich" I now know that practically everything he described actually occurred. I just read Shrake’s "But Not For Love: A Novel About Men, Women and Money." Well after all, it is about Texas. I am currently reading Phillipp Meyer's multi-generational Texas epic, "The Son." Furthermore, Minutaglio and Smith's autobiography of Molly Ivins is in the hopper. "The Big Rich" is a recounting of the life and times of four Texas oil wildcatters -- Hugh Roy Cullen, Sid Richardson, Clint Murchison and H.L. Hunt. Burrough writes, “If Texas Oil had a Mount Rushmore, their faces would adorn it. 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.” Hugh Roy Cullen, later a Houston wildcatter, grew up poor in San Antonio, and dropped out of school in the fifth grade. After becoming a wealthy man, he would become an early champion of and contributor to ultraconservative causes. He was “stern, humorless, and a bit of a scold…a man who detested communists, pinkos,” and especially Roosevelt “and whose favored politician was the red-busting Joe McCarthy.” Sid Richardson and Clint Murchison were lifelong friends from Athens, sixty miles southeast of Dallas. According to Burrough, “[d]espite their common backgrounds, they were a mismatched pair. Murchison was energetic, impatient, independent, and like many country boys before him, intellectually insecure….Murchison was shy and would remain so all his life. If he didn’t absolutely have to talk to someone, he avoided it. “In sharp contrast, Richardson presented himself as the essence of the Texas good ol’ boy, joshing, laughing, and cursing in a thick backwoods accent.” As outrageous as the conduct of these three, and their progeny, could be at times, neither they, nor their progeny, could hold a candle to H.L. Hunt or his progeny. Burrough writes, “At a time when itinerant wildcatters like Sid Richardson couldn’t find time for a wife let alone a family, Hunt would build three, two in secret. If they made a movie of his life, no one would believe it was true.” The only non-native in the group, Hunt was born in southern Illinois, about seventy miles south of St. Louis. “He was a strange man, a loner who lived deep inside his own peculiar mind, a self-educated thinker who was convinced – absolutely convinced – that he was possessed of talents that bordered on the superhuman. He may have been right; in the annals of American commerce there has never been anyone quite like Haroldson Lafayette Hunt.” The subtitle of the book, "The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes," is appropriate. The “Rise” was accomplished by the Big Four; the “Fall” was engineered by the progeny, particularly that of Murchison and, especially, Hunt. The fall is a story of family feuds, lawsuits, scandals and bankruptcies – and it isn’t pretty. I do recommend the book even though it is marred by inexcusable typos and misspellings (“Edmund” Murrow being only one example) and unexplainable factual errors. The typos and misspellings could have and should have been corrected by a proofreader and Burrough and his editor certainly should have avoided the obvious factual errors. How could he have possibly written the following: “… the champion steer, an eight-hundred pound heifer…?” Huh? Shouldn’t Burrough have known that a steer is a castrated male and a heifer is a young female? How could a Texan be so confused about bovine gender? And shouldn’t he, a Texan, have known that "The Longhorns," written by J. Frank Dobie, the prominent University of Texas professor and folklorist, was not a novel, but a work of nonfiction? But here is the most egregious error of all: “McCarthy’s subsequent ascension to Martin Dies’s old chairmanship of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and HUAC’s ensuing crusade against communist ‘infiltrators,’ transformed the senator into a polarizing figure across the country.” Holy separation of powers! A senator chaired a committee in the House of Representatives? I still recommend the book even though it is impossible to overlook the errors. They might have been understandable if the book had been published by some vanity press, but it wasn’t. We should be able to expect better from The Penguin Press. Bryan Burrough earlier co-wrote a big best-seller titled "Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco" and was the sole author of "Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934." The description on the Big Rich book jacket erroneously (imagine that) describes him as a native Texan. His family moved to Texas when he was seven-years old, but he was born in Tennessee. In his introduction, he mentions that some of his young classmates referred to him as a carpetbagger.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian

    This is the story of Texas oil: famous wells that launched it all like Spindletop and Santa Rita #1 (which unlocked the Permian Basin); the "Big Four" oilmen - Cullen, Hunt, Murchison, and Richardson - who came to represent the state and its culture and its growing wealth; the afterlives of those men as they branched in to politics and the rise of Lyndon Johnson; their fall from grace from associating too closely with McCarthy. I didn't at all appreciate that Texas was a poor backwater until the This is the story of Texas oil: famous wells that launched it all like Spindletop and Santa Rita #1 (which unlocked the Permian Basin); the "Big Four" oilmen - Cullen, Hunt, Murchison, and Richardson - who came to represent the state and its culture and its growing wealth; the afterlives of those men as they branched in to politics and the rise of Lyndon Johnson; their fall from grace from associating too closely with McCarthy. I didn't at all appreciate that Texas was a poor backwater until the 30s, and that only when real wealth began accumulating in Dallas and Houston in the 50s did Texas become an important economic force in the United States. I also didn't appreciate how important Texas oil was to the Allies' victory in WW2. Go to Oklahoma today and people will still tell you how oilmen won us the war. My favorite part of the book, though, is when the Big Four are raising their second generation. Most of the second generation of Texas oil barons end up in New Haven (and some times Andover too). They come back to East Texas and West Texas and Oklahoma and Lousiana with Yale degrees, and bring some of their friends too. The most successful among this second generation was Perry Bass, nephew of Sid Richardson. Perry and his children (Sid, Robert, etc) would go on to compound Richardson's fortune many times over. In their generosity, the Bass family donated two of the buildings I spent the most time at as a student at Yale: the Nancy Lee & Perry R. Bass Center for Molecular & Structural Biology (home of my beloved Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry department) and the Anne T. & Robert M. Bass Library. All Texas oil money. I wonder if in the fullness of time students will discover the history of these benefactors, and demand we scrub their names from the buildings. There's no way around it: the dollars that gave MB&B a home and undergaduates a place to be seen / study in between classes all got their start as sweet black crude pumped out of the earth in East Texas.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Is it any wonder Texas oilmen inspired soap operas like "Dallas" and "Giant?" Here's a cursory list of their goings-on: >Drinkin' >Gamblin' >Whorin'; >Bigamy; >Old-fashioned Jew-hatin'; >Commie-huntin'; >Jesus-findin'; >Coke-snortin'; >Sidewalk sleepin'; >Market-cornerin'; >Right-wingin'; >Island-buyin'; >$290,000 in silver dollars; >Wrestling matches at the symphony; >Armed robbery; >Billion dollar debts; >One lobotomy; >Hazard pay just for working in Texas humidity; >Founding the AFC and the Dallas Cowboys; >At l Is it any wonder Texas oilmen inspired soap operas like "Dallas" and "Giant?" Here's a cursory list of their goings-on: >Drinkin' >Gamblin' >Whorin'; >Bigamy; >Old-fashioned Jew-hatin'; >Commie-huntin'; >Jesus-findin'; >Coke-snortin'; >Sidewalk sleepin'; >Market-cornerin'; >Right-wingin'; >Island-buyin'; >$290,000 in silver dollars; >Wrestling matches at the symphony; >Armed robbery; >Billion dollar debts; >One lobotomy; >Hazard pay just for working in Texas humidity; >Founding the AFC and the Dallas Cowboys; >At least one crooked Italian count; >Corruption; >Leasing the same land to 11 people simultaneously; . . . and, finally, a couple of murders, but those were just tangential. "The Big Rich" mostly follows the "Big Four" oilmen: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Sid Richardson, and Clint Murchison. The list of supporting characters reads like an atlas of Houston and Dallas, including: >MD Anderson; >John Henry Kirby; >John Connally; >Brown & Root; >Lyndon Johnson; >Jesse H. Jones; >George Strake; >Sam Rayburn; >Sid Bass; >Lloyd Bentsen; >both George Bushes; >Glen McCarthy; >Eugene McCarthy; >various Roosevelts; >Blaffer; >and dozens more. My five-star rating is really just for Houstonians and Dallasites. Civilian readers may wish that fewer historic personages had been named, so that the important ones would stand out more. Yet watching all these street signs and hospitals and art galleries come to life makes me think I know why Homer included too damn many characters in "The Iliad:" everyone wants to hear about their ancestors. Throughout it all, author Bryan Burrough ("Public Enemies") quietly has the attitude shared by many Texans, and Houstonians in particular: yes, this city is a humid, mosquito-ridden swamp, overrun with cockroaches, congestion, and libertarians, but its OUR humid, mosquito-ridden swamp, and YOU don't get to talk shit about it. At the end, after cataloging decades of ambition and foolishness, he feels wistful about the days of these larger-than-life figures.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Raymond

    I found this a really interesting telling of the oil fortunes and misfortunes in Texas; however, I would have liked to be provided with some information on the steam (boiler) engines that were used in the drilling! Burrough often tells of the hazards that the boilers were when the gushers came in, but does not detail at all the use of the boilers. My family enjoyed a stay in the Shamrock Hilton when we moved to that area in 1973, it had an amazing pool! Also, as a software representative for IBM I found this a really interesting telling of the oil fortunes and misfortunes in Texas; however, I would have liked to be provided with some information on the steam (boiler) engines that were used in the drilling! Burrough often tells of the hazards that the boilers were when the gushers came in, but does not detail at all the use of the boilers. My family enjoyed a stay in the Shamrock Hilton when we moved to that area in 1973, it had an amazing pool! Also, as a software representative for IBM in Fort Worth I often saw T. Cullen Davis at his office in the Kendavis Industries Mid-Continent Supply Company. The Sinclair oil company is mentioned a couple of times but there is no mention of Harry F. Sinclair and his office in downtown Fort Worth? Also missing is Harrell Edmonds "Eddie" Chiles who was the founder of Western Company of North America and an owner of the Texas Rangers who advised Texans on TV that if you don't own an oil well - then you should get one!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kristi

    Very interesting on the history of oil in Texas. The first part of the book was fascinating: how oil was found using various combinations of money, luck, intelligence, and chutzpah. It's kind of technical, but Burroughs explains this key part of 20th c. Texas history in an engaging & clear way. The stories of the families of the "big rich" were ok -- it was interesting to find out more about names I've heard of my whole life (as a Texan), but too sensationalistic for my taste. I almost gave this Very interesting on the history of oil in Texas. The first part of the book was fascinating: how oil was found using various combinations of money, luck, intelligence, and chutzpah. It's kind of technical, but Burroughs explains this key part of 20th c. Texas history in an engaging & clear way. The stories of the families of the "big rich" were ok -- it was interesting to find out more about names I've heard of my whole life (as a Texan), but too sensationalistic for my taste. I almost gave this book 2 stars b/c it was annoying to me how often he characterized some of the oil-rich Texans as "ultra-conservative/conservative" and "racist" without any sense that these don't necessarily belong together . . . the author has an illiberal liberal perspective that makes both of those terms pejorative. Racist, yes . . . conservative, no. In the politics of the big rich, Burroughs paints with a broad brush and produces a caricature.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Intriguing stories about the men (unfortunately mainly men) that I grew up hearing about in Texas. These are the backgrounds of the men who made Texas famous for oil and big money. Really enjoyed the gossipy but true life adventures. Sadly,many of these families have devolved into the right-wing politicians and now have brought shame onto Texas. (Actually they were doing this for decades but not as openly.) Very detailed and researched. Now I know who owned some of those houses I used to walk my Intriguing stories about the men (unfortunately mainly men) that I grew up hearing about in Texas. These are the backgrounds of the men who made Texas famous for oil and big money. Really enjoyed the gossipy but true life adventures. Sadly,many of these families have devolved into the right-wing politicians and now have brought shame onto Texas. (Actually they were doing this for decades but not as openly.) Very detailed and researched. Now I know who owned some of those houses I used to walk my dogs by while living in Dallas. I know this sounds shallow but I would have liked a few more photos of people and events.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Heather Mize

    Interesting, entertaining, but the authors apparent disdain for the Big Rich is at times to apparent. I tend to appreciate more unbiased approaches when reading books like his. For all his trying Burrough doesn't have the same fluidity to his chronicle as Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day which makes epic stories that cross generations such as these accessible and readable. Overall, a good history of a sad turn of events in Texas oil history. Interesting, entertaining, but the authors apparent disdain for the Big Rich is at times to apparent. I tend to appreciate more unbiased approaches when reading books like his. For all his trying Burrough doesn't have the same fluidity to his chronicle as Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day which makes epic stories that cross generations such as these accessible and readable. Overall, a good history of a sad turn of events in Texas oil history.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    Bryan Burrough is an indefatigable researcher with an eye for a good story. The problem is he finds so many good stories, and some not-so-good ones, that he can't sort the gold from the dross. At the heart of this book, and at the best parts of it, are four oil fortunes, started by Roy Cullen, the HL Hunt, Sid Richardson (and his nephew Perry Bass), and Clint Murchison. All started as poor or near-poor boys, who made their fortune in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in some cases, like the Murchi Bryan Burrough is an indefatigable researcher with an eye for a good story. The problem is he finds so many good stories, and some not-so-good ones, that he can't sort the gold from the dross. At the heart of this book, and at the best parts of it, are four oil fortunes, started by Roy Cullen, the HL Hunt, Sid Richardson (and his nephew Perry Bass), and Clint Murchison. All started as poor or near-poor boys, who made their fortune in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in some cases, like the Murchisons, by parlaying "hot oil" outside government limits into extra-profits. But each was completely unknown to the outside world until an article in a 1948 Life magazine argued that HL Hunt might be the richest person in the world. Soon the story of the "Big Rich" Texas oil fortunes captivated the nation, from then until the 1980s height and the "Dallas" TV series, and their real life exploits gave plenty of fodder for myth. They all became big in politics, many like Sid Richardson and Clint Murchison, hobnobbing with Lyndon Johnson from his earliest days, but most, again like Sid Richardson, more cosy with Eisenhower, or, like Hunt, the even more radical right. Roy Cullen funded an early radio network headed by John Flynn, the onetime liberal turned rabid anti-New Dealer. HL Hunt funded "Facts Forum" another early Christian and right-wing show. But their funding for Sen. Joseph McCarthy led to a slew of bad-press and criticism of Texas "cretans" secretly running the country. Soon, however, their sons entered the picture. Clint Jr. became better known as the owner of the Cowboys, and Lamar Hunt as the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. Their sons were playboys or eccentrics, who usually, like Bunker and Herbert Hunt, managed to lose their fortunes in odd schemes, like trying to corner the silver market. If Burrough had stuck to these four oilmen and their families, it would have been a good tale. But every anecdote seemed to unleash a string of new and unrelated ones. Its a common writer's curse.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tripp

    There are some areas of the country I find particularly interesting. Most I can attribute to a personal connection (VA, NC, CA), because of what happens there (LA, NYC) or some combination (DC). Others are just so peculiar that they make for fascinating reading. These tend to be on the geographical fringe; places like Alaska, Maine and Texas. Bryan Burroughs (co-author of Barbarians at the Gate) tackles some of the key creators of the modern Texas in the Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greate There are some areas of the country I find particularly interesting. Most I can attribute to a personal connection (VA, NC, CA), because of what happens there (LA, NYC) or some combination (DC). Others are just so peculiar that they make for fascinating reading. These tend to be on the geographical fringe; places like Alaska, Maine and Texas. Bryan Burroughs (co-author of Barbarians at the Gate) tackles some of the key creators of the modern Texas in the Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes. This book is a fun, but serious, read. It covers four families, the Hunts, the Cullens, the Murchisons and the lonely Sid Richardson. None of these names were terribly familiar to me, although I had a vague sense that Hunt=money at some point. Through luck, smarts and willingness to take risks continually, they built independent Texas oil fortunes in the 20s and 30s. Through their extravagant living, they created the idea of the insanely rich Texas oil tycoon and the culture of conspicuous consumption that lives on in Texas. Some of them were at least partially responsible for the rise of the Radical Right in 40s and 50s, although others were behind the rise of the greatest liberal of the second half of the 20th century, LBJ. The stories follow a familiar pattern, but they are no less enthralling for it. Young penniless man takes a number of risks (including bigamy in one case) and then hits the jackpot. Newly rich man throws around his weight, gets burned by it and then lives to see his family decline as the scions make huge mistakes or battle viciously amongst themselves. Burroughs keeps the narrative moving quickly and his sympathetic look at these peculiar characters and their strange histories makes for good reading. It isn't just these families that make an appearance. We see a number of lesser (financial) lights, including the Bush family, who have oil to thank for their success. In the conclusion, Burroughs notes that the time of the oil man has passed and the new Texas is a more cosmopolitan place, that doesn't have much time for poorly educated big hat oil men. It would be interesting. The place where you might find them still is China. In cities like Shanghai, the culture of mass consumption and sudden wealth is taking off. It will be interesting to see how they try to impact the power structure as the Texans did.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    A very compelling and interesting "history" of the big four "wealthy beyond your wildest dreams" Texans. Burroughs discusses Roy Cullen, HL Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson. A few others are thrown in as other illustrations of the swaggering, egotistical, ill educated and small minded men who were lucky, ruthless and tenacious at a time when there was little in Texas beyond some sagebrush and skinny, malnourished cattle grazing on thousands of acres of brush and mesquite trees. A clever A very compelling and interesting "history" of the big four "wealthy beyond your wildest dreams" Texans. Burroughs discusses Roy Cullen, HL Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson. A few others are thrown in as other illustrations of the swaggering, egotistical, ill educated and small minded men who were lucky, ruthless and tenacious at a time when there was little in Texas beyond some sagebrush and skinny, malnourished cattle grazing on thousands of acres of brush and mesquite trees. A clever writer for the New Yorker referred to them as Troglodyte genus Texana. Don't you just love it! The discussion of the amount of oil, the lack of concern for the destruction of oil fields by overdrilling, the burning off of precious natural gas were fascinating. Anyway, Texans REVERE these guys. They are gods. I will never forget when HL Hunt's grandaughter moved to Midland in the 70s for a while. West Texans were positively orgasmic. If you want to get a good flavor of Texas, read this book. It will open your eyes and help you to understand why Texans vote for ignoramuses like Rick Perry, where the rest of the country would be humiliated to have this nitwit as their governor. In Texas, money talks, and education is disdained as inconsequential. The fact that these guys, who had very little education had as much influence as they did on our politics is disconcerting. I guess I keep hoping that we actually have a better playing field than we do in crafting legislation. But again, money talks. The book is written in a very accessible way. There are a few errors of spelling that I picked up, so shame on the editor. But then I find that editors and their craft don't really seem to matter in the push to publish a book these days. My only complaint about the book is that I'd have liked him to have thrown in some more interesting characters, but this is unfair. The book is about the big four and he has a right to narrow down his topic. It's just that it is such an interesting one and the times and places are so interesting, that I kept wanting more.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Excellent book about the big four oilmen (aka the Big Rich) and their families in Texas from the 1930s into the 1980s. These were powerful men/families that through their immense wealth influenced Texas and the country both socially and politically. The Big Four were Roy Cullen (Houston), H. L. Hunt and Clint Murchison, Sr. (Dallas), and Sid Richardson (Fort Worth). Bryan Burrough follows the trials and triumphs of each man and family(ies) with great dedication. Several men were racists and anti Excellent book about the big four oilmen (aka the Big Rich) and their families in Texas from the 1930s into the 1980s. These were powerful men/families that through their immense wealth influenced Texas and the country both socially and politically. The Big Four were Roy Cullen (Houston), H. L. Hunt and Clint Murchison, Sr. (Dallas), and Sid Richardson (Fort Worth). Bryan Burrough follows the trials and triumphs of each man and family(ies) with great dedication. Several men were racists and anti-Semites and were dedicated to establishing the Republican Party of Texas and pushing Texas and the country to the extreme right-wing. Of the four two were major philanthropists: Roy Cullen (an ultra-conservative with a 4th grade education) almost single-handedly brought about the University of Houston and Sid Richardson (a lifelong Democrat) formed the Sid Richardson Foundation that makes grants to advance the missions of nonprofit educational, health, human service, and cultural organizations in Texas. H. L. Hunt, another ultra-conservative, after his success as an oilman was established began pushing his right-wing agenda through a publication titled Facts Forum and later re-named LIFE LINE after Hunt became religious. Because of his conservative agenda Hunt's name was tied to the assassination of President John Kennedy although any connection was never proved. For those interested in the days Texas the oil boom, how mega-money influenced politics, and a look inside the "odd" lives of the Big Rich this is the book for you! It is amazing!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wes Knapp

    I loved this book. My family has interest in the East Texas Oil field and my Dad's great aunts grew up in Dallas and their kids grew up with HL Hunt's kids there. So a lot of the history is personal to me - however - anyone with an interest in the history of wealth development and the ups and downs of life in a family where the patriarch is often an all or nothing gambler - will find this book fascinating. Must read for Texas History I loved this book. My family has interest in the East Texas Oil field and my Dad's great aunts grew up in Dallas and their kids grew up with HL Hunt's kids there. So a lot of the history is personal to me - however - anyone with an interest in the history of wealth development and the ups and downs of life in a family where the patriarch is often an all or nothing gambler - will find this book fascinating. Must read for Texas History

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    A well-written and eye opening history of 20th-Century Texas. Did you know that Big Oil was behind McCarthyism, two Presidents Bush, and a million other hypocrisies? You did? Well, I think there's still new stuff to be discovered in here. You can be entertained and horrified at the same time... A well-written and eye opening history of 20th-Century Texas. Did you know that Big Oil was behind McCarthyism, two Presidents Bush, and a million other hypocrisies? You did? Well, I think there's still new stuff to be discovered in here. You can be entertained and horrified at the same time...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael Linton

    This book had great stories but the book as a whole was hard to finish. It felt very disjointed and the flow was horrible. It felt like it was various stories (in great detail) that had no arch. Also, the book dove into stories of people that wasn't part of the Big Four. I would have preferred it so much more if it was presented as a collection of stories. This book had great stories but the book as a whole was hard to finish. It felt very disjointed and the flow was horrible. It felt like it was various stories (in great detail) that had no arch. Also, the book dove into stories of people that wasn't part of the Big Four. I would have preferred it so much more if it was presented as a collection of stories.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris Phillips

    Got this book as a gift from my in-laws. Couldn't put it down! Fascinating story that follows four Texas oil families from early days on through to (most of) their demise. Highly recommend! Got this book as a gift from my in-laws. Couldn't put it down! Fascinating story that follows four Texas oil families from early days on through to (most of) their demise. Highly recommend!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris Griesemer

    I loved this book. If you've spent time in East Texas, or Dallas...or Houston, or really anywhere in the Lone Star State, you will see nearly unending references to the Oil Baron names that help established the Texas economy. Learning the utterly insane backstory of some of these legendary (and in some cases forgotten) oilmen was just one new delight after enough. Such rich history, literally. I loved this book. If you've spent time in East Texas, or Dallas...or Houston, or really anywhere in the Lone Star State, you will see nearly unending references to the Oil Baron names that help established the Texas economy. Learning the utterly insane backstory of some of these legendary (and in some cases forgotten) oilmen was just one new delight after enough. Such rich history, literally.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Schwinghammer

    THE BIG RICH is about how Texas wildcatters amassed huge fortunes during the Depression and went on to lose most of it in wild speculation. Bryan Burrough concentrates on the big four: Clint Murchison, H.L. Hunt, Roy Cullen and Sid Richardson. They were able to acquire oil leases because the big oil companies, like Gulf, were short on money because of the Depression. H.L. Hunt got his start by “hijacking” another wildcatter, “Dad” Joiner who found the first great oil field in East Texas, a woodsy THE BIG RICH is about how Texas wildcatters amassed huge fortunes during the Depression and went on to lose most of it in wild speculation. Bryan Burrough concentrates on the big four: Clint Murchison, H.L. Hunt, Roy Cullen and Sid Richardson. They were able to acquire oil leases because the big oil companies, like Gulf, were short on money because of the Depression. H.L. Hunt got his start by “hijacking” another wildcatter, “Dad” Joiner who found the first great oil field in East Texas, a woodsy area other oil men disdained. Hunt needed to know the direction of the find, where future wells might be drilled. There was one being drilled at the same time as Joiner's well. When it gushed, Hunt was the first to know and was able to buy up leases in that direction. Of course Joiner sued, but the eventual settlement was comparative pocket change. Hunt went on to become the richest man in the world; he also started the conservative movement, buying up radio stations to promote his political views. Hunt hated government interference and regulation. Government tended to try to limit the amount of oil that could be pumped in one day so as to prevent the well from going dry. Hunt resented this. He was also a racist and eventually became a born-again Christian. Hunt was also a bigamist, eventually married to three women with corresponding families, which would present problems in the future with lots of litigation. How conservative were the oil barons? They latched onto Joe McCarty's hyper anti-communist views, even thinking about financing a run for the presidency. And when Douglas MacArthur was fired, they supported him. Eventually they latched onto Dwight D. Eisenhower., going so far as to remodel his Gettysburg farm. Clint Murchison was a math whiz and relied more on science to find his oil. He would go on to acquire a NFL franchise, the Dallas Cowboys, which he owned for many years before his son Clint Jr. lost most of his holdings. Ray Cullen was the least known and least remembered of the big four. He had a fifth grade education but had a nose for finding oil. He was also politically conservative, forever jousting with politicians. He built a mansion in Houston during the Depression and justified it as a civil enterprise, bringing jobs to hundreds of men. Sid Richardson was more politically astute. He gave money to both political parties and developed a special relationship with Lyndon Johnson, a young congressional candidate at the time who would rise to become senate majority leader and eventually president. His grand nephew, Sid Bass, was even more astute, diversifying when the Middle East began to drive prices down. Sid Bass and his investment partner, Richard Rainwater, would build a fifty million dollar stake into five billion through corporate raider techniques. They would acquire the largest share of stocks in Disney, before it became an entertainment conglomerate under Michael Eisner, whom Sid Bass hired. Today Texas no longer relies so much on oil; the state has more Fortune 500 companies than any other, but Burroughs makes a curious statement, saying Texas is just another state. Perhaps he said that because he published the book in 2009 before it became such a conservative bastion. But even then George W. Bush's presidency was over and Rick Perry had elected a Board of Education that wanted to rewrite history. Burrough also mentions T. Boone Pickens, who along with other oil and gas magnates, sponsored the Swift Boaters who helped Bush win his second term against John Kerry.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phylwil

    The first part, which tells the story of 4 men who come from modest backgrounds and find (or somehow get control of) vast amounts of oil, is interesting. The next portion tells of their many excesses, immoral/illegal actions, and how much power they wielded, and is not quite as interesting but still worthwhile. The final portion chronicles the destruction of the impressive fortunes (leaving the families wealthy but not so impressively) and was slow reading. I struggled to care.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    This book was recommended to me as a recent transplant in the state of Texas. Apparently, everything I needed to know about recent Texas history was in this book. Oil and the Dallas Cowboys is all you need to know about anything when it comes to Texas. This book examines the lives of 4 families and their patriarchs: The Hugh Roy Cullen, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson and H.L. Hunt families. It's a fascinating tale of "do it yourself" and "wildcatting" and how fortunes are won and lost in the oi This book was recommended to me as a recent transplant in the state of Texas. Apparently, everything I needed to know about recent Texas history was in this book. Oil and the Dallas Cowboys is all you need to know about anything when it comes to Texas. This book examines the lives of 4 families and their patriarchs: The Hugh Roy Cullen, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson and H.L. Hunt families. It's a fascinating tale of "do it yourself" and "wildcatting" and how fortunes are won and lost in the oil game. The book is divided into two parts essentially, the first half is about each of the individual men listed above and their rise to prominence. The second half is about their fortunes and families. I found the first half more interesting as it took you through the process of collecting oil in the early half of the 20th century, how the business originated and was built and through local, state and federal laws and regulations that affected the business. Out of the four men, H.L. Hunt had the most fascinating story. He was a quite genius and a secret polygamist that made both his story and the story of his fortune and family fascinating. He also offers a look into the rise of conservative Republican politics and the affect money has on our federal system. Quite interesting to read about in today's world. I also quite enjoyed hearing the tales of Clint Murchison and the creation of the Dallas Cowboys. The book is also a lesson in getting rich in America and how to stay rich. It offers tales of business savvy and tales of caution. Womanizing, bravado and drugs are prevalent throughout the stories. All-in-all, these four men embraced the independent spirit of Texas and represent the growth of the American dream. I really wanted to give this book five stars, because the stories of these men and the history surrounding them is entertaining and thought provoking. The 4 stars is for some of the drier sections regarding oil processes and business. I think there could have been less detail and we still would have gotten the gist of how oil is collected. I do recommend this book because it hits on several topics: oil and the oil business, recent Texas history, government regulation and politics and, on the more salacious side money, sex and power.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    The early pages were a really interesting history of wildcatting for oil in Texas. Then the uneducated rednecks who found the oil got rich and things got ugly, as only obscene amounts of money can do. "The men who ran Texas oversaw a hierarchical, plantation-style culture, ruled by a southern aristocracy dedicated to harvesting the earth while keeping its workers subservient and poorly educated...The men of Texas oil, it appeared, had little to offer the American people beyond hatred...." The Bi The early pages were a really interesting history of wildcatting for oil in Texas. Then the uneducated rednecks who found the oil got rich and things got ugly, as only obscene amounts of money can do. "The men who ran Texas oversaw a hierarchical, plantation-style culture, ruled by a southern aristocracy dedicated to harvesting the earth while keeping its workers subservient and poorly educated...The men of Texas oil, it appeared, had little to offer the American people beyond hatred...." The Big Rich, as the handful of nouveau riche were called, funded McCarthyism, heavily promoted anti-Semitism, fixed prices, and paid off politicians to protect their monopolies and tax exemptions. One oilman offered a school mineral rights on thousands of acres of his land, conditional on the school excluding black and Jews and teaching its students white supremacy. Fascinating and sickening at the same time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    Wow! I didn't know what I was getting into with this thoroughly (probably too thorough) researched book about the Big Rich - oil tycoons that forever changed Texas-and to some extent the US as a whole. The thing that really strikes me about these billionaires who made their living off of our national nonrenewable resources is how warped their sense of reality became. At the end, when one of them was 100s of millions in the hole because of his unethical behavior, the family still called him a "ma Wow! I didn't know what I was getting into with this thoroughly (probably too thorough) researched book about the Big Rich - oil tycoons that forever changed Texas-and to some extent the US as a whole. The thing that really strikes me about these billionaires who made their living off of our national nonrenewable resources is how warped their sense of reality became. At the end, when one of them was 100s of millions in the hole because of his unethical behavior, the family still called him a "man of honor". People are in prison for stealing less than a hundred dollars worth of goods and yet these billionaires can steal with impunity - it's mind-boggling. I learned a lot from this reading book, but the extravagance, the waste, grated on me. I am glad the days of the Big Rich are over.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    The stories of the four richest oilmen in Texas were not interesting enough to keep me reading past half-way. I love stories about people working from nothing to become successful but these guys all seemed to have stumbled on to oil mostly due to dumb luck and some amount of perseverance. The perseverance is admirable but otherwise they didn't strike me (as of halfway through) as particularly admirable. I didn't make it to the extensive explanation of big oil's impact on the nation's politics bu The stories of the four richest oilmen in Texas were not interesting enough to keep me reading past half-way. I love stories about people working from nothing to become successful but these guys all seemed to have stumbled on to oil mostly due to dumb luck and some amount of perseverance. The perseverance is admirable but otherwise they didn't strike me (as of halfway through) as particularly admirable. I didn't make it to the extensive explanation of big oil's impact on the nation's politics but that was part of what drew me to the book. Anyway, I didn't really like the author's writing style and I kept re-reading sentences because they weren't clear.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John

    Surprisingly engaging book about the four pre-eminent Texas oilmen of the 20th century: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson and their legacy. Lots of family drama and political intrigue, as well as the fortunes won and lost along the way. Here are a few of the chapter titles to whet your curiosity: * The Bigamist and the Boom * "A Clumsy and Immeasurable Power" * Sun, Sex, Spaghetti - and Murder The author was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and is able to get into the Surprisingly engaging book about the four pre-eminent Texas oilmen of the 20th century: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson and their legacy. Lots of family drama and political intrigue, as well as the fortunes won and lost along the way. Here are a few of the chapter titles to whet your curiosity: * The Bigamist and the Boom * "A Clumsy and Immeasurable Power" * Sun, Sex, Spaghetti - and Murder The author was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and is able to get into the specifics of the industry without getting too dry. Recommended - even just the H.L. Hunt stories would make this worth reading.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Bryan Burroughs' account of the fortunes of the Hunts, Murchisons, Cullens and Sid Richardson/the Basses is excellent - revealing (especially on the subject of Sid Richardson) without being either hagiographic or overly-scandal-mongering. The insight into Texas politics was probably my favorite part - I didn't realize the strong antitrust fighting record or concerns over Eastern capital owning Texas resources and profit. Be warned, from Amazon reviews it sounds like some fact-checking could have Bryan Burroughs' account of the fortunes of the Hunts, Murchisons, Cullens and Sid Richardson/the Basses is excellent - revealing (especially on the subject of Sid Richardson) without being either hagiographic or overly-scandal-mongering. The insight into Texas politics was probably my favorite part - I didn't realize the strong antitrust fighting record or concerns over Eastern capital owning Texas resources and profit. Be warned, from Amazon reviews it sounds like some fact-checking could have been done. I really want to know more about LBJ and his relationship with Texas oil, sounds like a trip to Robert Caro's books is in order.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Fieler

    Growing up in Texas, the oil industry has always been looming in the background. So many of these names are plastered on buildings around the state, but I have never really known much about the people themselves. This book is very readable and very well written. So often "group biographies" jump like crazy, so you don't ever get a good feel for the people themselves, but that isn't the case here. The characters are larger than life, and the author really entwines their lives and their careers to Growing up in Texas, the oil industry has always been looming in the background. So many of these names are plastered on buildings around the state, but I have never really known much about the people themselves. This book is very readable and very well written. So often "group biographies" jump like crazy, so you don't ever get a good feel for the people themselves, but that isn't the case here. The characters are larger than life, and the author really entwines their lives and their careers together to show the rise and fall of Texas Oil in all its glory. This is a book I will keep, and I am sure to read again.

  28. 5 out of 5

    John Walker

    The joys, sorrows and collapse of the Big Rich or the Big Four families of Texas oil. My wife's cousin, a petroleum engineer in Texas, convinced me to read this book. Usually I would say 'I'll check it out' then forget about it. It was his passion about this book that made me want to read it. There are times you'll shake your head on how foolish some of these people were and there are some times where you burst out laughing at some of the antics. From the 1920's with wildcatters till the Hunt bro The joys, sorrows and collapse of the Big Rich or the Big Four families of Texas oil. My wife's cousin, a petroleum engineer in Texas, convinced me to read this book. Usually I would say 'I'll check it out' then forget about it. It was his passion about this book that made me want to read it. There are times you'll shake your head on how foolish some of these people were and there are some times where you burst out laughing at some of the antics. From the 1920's with wildcatters till the Hunt brothers with their crazy silver buying frenzy, you will throughly enjoy this book. Business book? Yes, History book? Yes but trust me it's certainly never dry dull reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Charles Dingman

    But for its Texas epic length, I would have finished this fine book months ago, not put it aside for fiction several times. The story is colorful and well told, the characters so outrageous and the successes and failures so striking as to seem exaggerated in other contexts, but not here. This is the tale of those who struck it rich and how it changed us all. Growing up, Texas was the really big state next door that had no mountains of its own whose residents' kids I met when my family went tent c But for its Texas epic length, I would have finished this fine book months ago, not put it aside for fiction several times. The story is colorful and well told, the characters so outrageous and the successes and failures so striking as to seem exaggerated in other contexts, but not here. This is the tale of those who struck it rich and how it changed us all. Growing up, Texas was the really big state next door that had no mountains of its own whose residents' kids I met when my family went tent camping for summer vacation, or the endless hot, dry state we had to traverse to get to my Mom's college friend in Norman, Oklahoma.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barrycolbert2002yahoo.com

    Wow, just finished. I am glad of Texas History way back in the seventh grade. This book is proof positive that money, fast money, quick money, will lead a man into the depths of h'ell. Just think of it - four families with a mass of wealth. Now it is all gone. This is a Long Long book. I ended up giving in about 25 to 30 pages at a time. Take your time with it. Lots of interesting facts and stories of politics, National polictics, and a World War to boot. Do not miss this one if you are from Tex Wow, just finished. I am glad of Texas History way back in the seventh grade. This book is proof positive that money, fast money, quick money, will lead a man into the depths of h'ell. Just think of it - four families with a mass of wealth. Now it is all gone. This is a Long Long book. I ended up giving in about 25 to 30 pages at a time. Take your time with it. Lots of interesting facts and stories of politics, National polictics, and a World War to boot. Do not miss this one if you are from Texas, love history, love oil, love money, or love politics.

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