A straightforward, evenhanded and often riveting assessment.

Mother Jones senior editor Schulman delivers provocative reportage on the Koch alpha-family legacy.

Patriarch Fred, a dedicated Kansan industrialist, rancher and entrepreneur, exercised a task-driven, “voracious work ethic.” He was a founding member of the anti-communist John Birch Society and a pugilist, which meant that resolving disputes among his sons often involved gloved fisticuffs. Frederick, the oldest and most artistic, was an outlier gravitating away from the family business. He was soon followed by rebellious second son Charles and “pathologically competitive” fraternal twins David and Bill. Well before his father’s death in 1967, Charles had already assumed authority over the successful family oil-refining business, which Fred left equal percentages of to three of his four sons (Frederick was disinherited due to numerous theft allegations) with the caveat that the bequeathal could be “either a blessing or a curse.” Charles and David exerted a diligent “top-down control” with libertarian leanings in building the business into the country’s second-largest privately owned multinational corporation. However, dissension in the ranks pitted brother against brother, as Schulman depicts in the second half. While the brothers’ drive and dedication further fortified their father’s empire, the Koch family portrait becomes less flattering as their ruthless, vicious infighting and litigiousness became commonplace. The author generously depicts the nasty retaliatory efforts by Charles in response to flashy “Wild Bill’s” numerous efforts to gain his own foothold in the business and against hermetic, reclusive collector Frederick when he refused to relinquish company shares. Now billionaires, Charles’ and David’s strategic, manipulative political contributions, Schulman notes, have also garnered negative notoriety for personifying the nation’s wealth inequality—most notably, in the 2012 presidential election, where they emerged as “cartoonish robber barons” bankrolling the tea party movement. Free from conjecture or personal criticism, Schulman’s astute account is buttressed by concrete research, legal documents, and verbatim interviews with family members and friends.

 A straightforward, evenhanded and often riveting assessment.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4555-1873-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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