Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty

Book review by Deane Barker tags: business

This is a history of Fred Koch and his sons. Fred started what would become Koch Industries. He had four sons:

  • Frederick, who never took much interest in the business, never married, and apparently spoke with the author multiple times to insist he wasn’t gay

  • Charles, who is the mastermind of the family – very traditional, he married, had kids, stayed generally boring, and quietly built Koch into a powerhouse

  • David (a twin), is right behind Charles in the history of Koch, though on the personal side he was quite a playboy

  • Bill (a twin), started a competing company, won the America’s Cup, and – along with Frederick – sued Charles and David continually for 20 years to get more of their father’s estate

So, the players are Charles and David, against Frederick and Bill. Their mother, Mary, was caught in the middle and was apparently distraught at her son’s conflicts.

Fred – the father – was vehemently anti-communist. He had done some work in the Soviet Union, and was horrified by it, so he was one of the co-founders of the John Birch Society.

This filtered down to Charles, who has traditionally been a strong libertarian, and much of the last third of the book discusses his influence in politics, He managed to stay behind-the-scenes until Obama’s first campaign in 2008, at which time the public became aware of the Kochs and what they believed in.

Frederick died last year (2020). David died in 2019. Charles is now 86, and Bill is 81.

The book is written by an editor for Mother Jones so I was prepared for some heavy Left-ward bias, but was pleasantly surprised at its absence…mostly. I believe the book to be accurate and truthful, but it’s clear that the author was selective in his facts. He reports on the salacious and negative things, but other than a nod to how well Koch Industries pays and takes care of its employees, there’s very little positive information in the book.

Still, it’s quite interesting and reads well. I understand the Kochs better than I did before, but it didn’t much change my opinion on anything.

Book Info

Daniel Schulman

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