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

Author, Daniel Schulman, is a journalist at Mother Jones, and to be charitable, Mother Jones is just a jot or tittle away from being a full-blown Marxist news ecosystem. The Koch brothers, on the other hand, are perhaps the most slandered, misunderstood, mischaracterized people to live in the United States. When I saw Schulman’s book, I expected a full frontal assault on the two brothers which would serve to painfully add to the societal hit job perpetrated against two of the most philanthropic and ideological business titans in history. Boy, was I wrong.

Nearly any heat Schulman has gotten for the writing of this wonderful book has come from the far left, which presumably expected him to veer from where years and years of research and discovery led him. Schulman hardly writes a glowing or flowery biography of the Koch family; he actually peels back the skin and exposes readers to a deeply complex and frankly painful narrative of family drama. However, what leftist Koch haters are unlikely to forgive Schulman for is that he dares to write the indisputable, crystal clear truth, that David and Charles Koch actually believe the causes they support, are significant and multi-generational ideologues and intellectuals in the cause of limited government, and don’t have a crony bone in their bodies.

It is that last point that irks the left. The narrative Harry Reid and other cartoonish characters in American politics (and media) would like you to believe is that the Koch brothers spend hundreds of millions of dollars supporting think tanks, publications, causes, and candidates, because they are trying to curry favor for their multi-billion dollar energy, infrastructure, and consumer brands empire. That narrative would force people to be wary of anything the Kochs touched, for surely it would be “dirty” if their agenda was expanding their own riches. It is a narrative that has never made any sense (the two of them combined are personally worth a tad short of $100 billion; their business empire has grown over two generations through some of the most innovative and strategic organic growth and acquisition in business history; their political and ideological “investments” have not been, shall we say, “accretive to bottom line”).

Charles and David Koch are intellectuals who were raised in a philosophy of limited government, anti-Communism, and the efficiencies of free markets, by their late father, Fred. He provided them an incredible belief system about what their inheritance (in the family business) should and should not be allowed to facilitate inside of them (“if you choose to let this money destroy your initiative and independence, it will be a curse to you”). The book goes into great detail to document the family history, how things unraveled in the relationship with David and Charles with their brother, Bill, and the messy two-decade intra-family fight that ensued. But what the book does extremely well is document the passion Charles in particular has for the cause of limited government, and the nearly 50-year history he has in attempting to influence the minds and hearts of men with the messages of market-based freedoms he believes in. Contrary to the aforementioned narrative, what this book demonstrates beyond any shadow of any doubt is that the Koch brothers actually LOATHE cronyism, and have gone to great lengths to hold in contempt any who would use their power and prestige to try and put a finger on the scales. The Kochs are rich and powerful. And the Kochs have a defensible worldview. But they are no cronies. No facts hold which claim otherwise. Just ask the columnist for Mother Jones who wrote their biography!

The final point I would make in recapping this wonderful book is how fascinating the journey was that Charles Koch went through regarding STRATEGY. He has started more publications and funded more start-up think tanks than I can count when it comes to the liberty movement, and yet after hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of time, Charles Koch came to realize that the constant in-fighting and crackpot conspiratorialism that defined libertarianism and the fringe part of Austrian economics was going nowhere. He has continued to fund and support the areas of thought where the needle can be moved, and where minds and hearts can be changed. But I read with intense interest of the fallout that took place with Murray Rothbard in the late 1970’s, as the Kochs came to realize the intelligent economist was more interested in fringe irrelevance that effective intellectual activism. I suspect their observations of their dad’s work in the John Birch Society informed their decisions about working with those who revel not in improving the thinking of a society, but in mere bomb-throwing and kookiness. The Kochs believe in a philosophy, not a sociology, and that alone has made them persona non grata with the worst elements of the “freedom movement”. And frankly, it has made me respect them more than I already did.

Schulman did his readers a great service with a thorough and objective book that is heavy on research, exhaustively fair, and unwilling to buy into a pre-determined narrative that lacks basis in fact. I very much recommend this fine book about these pivotally important actors in modern society.