American capitalism at its most successful and domineering is at the center of this sweeping history of a much-vilified company. Business journalist Leonard (The Meat Racket) recounts the 50-year growth of Koch Industries, a privately held, infamously secretive conglomerate—with interests in oil refineries, pipelines, lumber, commodities trading, fertilizer, and greeting cards—under CEO Charles Koch, whose libertarian ideology and political donations make him a godfather of the Republican right. Leonard paints Koch as a brilliant businessman whose fanatically entrepreneurial company—employees fervidly embrace his “market-based management” philosophy—thrives on turning underperforming assets into moneymakers. He also probes a very seamy underbelly: an oil-theft scandal and illegal dumping of toxins (the company has since cleaned up its act, Leonard notes), a penchant for gaming government regulations while denouncing the regulatory state, and heavy-handed lobbying and political organizing to stymie climate change legislation. The company’s ruthlessness is spotlighted in his accounts of Koch’s sometimes violent battles with unions; Leonard profiles workers whose wages and security dwindled while computerized regimentation and staffing cuts made their jobs grueling and unsafe. Leonard’s superb investigations and even-handed, clear-eyed reportage stand out. Agent: Lauren Sharp, Aevitas Creative Management. (Aug.)
Superb... Among the best books ever written about an American corporation... Not since Andrew Ross Sorkin’s landmark Too Big to Fail (2009) have I said this about a book, but Kochland warrants it: If you’re in business, this is something you need to read.”
— Bryan Burrough, The New York Times Book Review
“Kochland is a dazzling feat of investigative reporting and epic narrative writing, a tour de force that takes the reader deep inside the rise of a vastly powerful family corporation that has come to influence American workers, markets, elections, and the very ideas debated in our public square. Leonard’s work is fair and meticulous, even as it reveals the Kochs as industrial Citizens Kane of our time.”
— Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Private Empire
“Leonard’s visionary, decade-spanning, and heart-rending investigation into the Koch Empire is indispensable not just for understanding the rise of corporate power in America, but for understanding America itself. Kochland will take its place alongside Chernow’s Titan and Coll’s Private Empire as one of the great accounts of American capitalism.”
— Jesse Eisinger, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Chickenshit Club
“A Robert Caro-like narrative of business and political power with a brilliant, ruthless, and fascinating monopolist at its center. Leonard devoted eight years to this gem of a book, seeking to understand the mysterious Charles Koch and the Goliath he has taken a half century to construct.”
— Ken Auletta, New York Times bestselling author of Googled
“Deeply and authoritatively reported... [Kochland] marshals a huge amount of information and uses it to help solve two enduring mysteries: how the Kochs got so rich, and how they used that fortune to buy off American action on climate change.”
— Jane Mayer, The New Yorker
“Impressive... A corporate history, lucidly told, about the enormous energy conglomerate that has inserted itself into nearly every aspect of daily life, raking in billions along the way.”
— The New York Times
“This is fast-paced business history. An episode about ammonia runoff at an oil refinery keeps you turning pages like a John Grisham thriller.”
“With deep reporting and narrative flair, Leonard has rendered a revealing portrait of the Koch family as ruthless businessmen and savvy political operatives who quietly built an empire and defined the face of American capitalism and its hold on Washington over the last fifty years.”
— William Cohan, New York Times bestselling author of House of Cards
“Impressive... Kochland is the most definitive account yet of how one of America’s richest and most powerful families amassed its fortune.”
— The Washington Post
“If you want a crash course in the evolution of postmodern capitalism over the last five decades read Kochland.”
— New York Journal of Books
“An extraordinarily detailed, illuminating and, at times, terrifying account of the massive impact of a corporate industrial giant on American society... A tour de force of investigative journalism... [Kochland] makes a compelling case that, in contrast to the iconic ad for a carbonated beverage, things do not go better with Koch.”
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"With balance and evenhandedness, Leonard traces the phenomenal rise of Koch Industries from an obscure Wichita oil company into a global behemoth."
— New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice
“A masterpiece of nonfiction writing... I can’t recommend this one highly enough... One of the most remarkable aspects of Kochland is Leonard's ability to convey arcane industry concepts simply enough for those of us with no background in the subject to grasp... Leonard not only helps his readers grasp the complex concepts but also makes his explanation entertaining.”
“At times the book reads like a thriller, with epic characters waging battles worthy of Game of Thrones."
— Lee Woodruff, New York Times bestselling co-author of In an Instant
“Deeply researched and deeply revealing... [Leonard] does a remarkable job of making a corporate history as compulsively readable as a thriller.”
“Few studies on the Kochs, or any other US corporation, match Christopher Leonard’s Kochland.”
— International Policy Digest
“An indispensable guide to how Koch Industries developed and grew to a place where the profits from the companies it controls were converted into currency in the marketplace of ideas, and ultimately into political and policy decisions that impact every American... Kochland is an essential read for anyone curious about the economic and political underpinnings of a society in which the wealth is concentrated and public goods, from education to infrastructure, are left to erode.”
— Inside Higher Ed
“Sheds important fresh light on the issue at hand: Denial of the science of global warming.”
— Philadelphia Inquirer
"Should be in every business, economics, and political history collection....it holds wide-ranging implications for understanding the course of American and business history as a whole, weaving the Koch story into the broader fabric of U.S. affairs and social issues. The result is a powerful, winning examination that links Charles and David Koch to not just wealth acquisition or business evolution, but American economic and political developments as a whole."
— MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
A massively reported deep dive into the unparalleled corporate industrial giant Koch Industries.
In 1967, Charles Koch inherited from his recently deceased father the leadership of a medium-sized, nearly invisible industrial conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas. Charles would build the conglomerate into an entity so sprawling, profitable, and politically powerful that it seems to defy all reason. "Koch's operations span the entire landscape of the American economy," writes business reporter Leonard (The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business, 2014). "The company's story is the story of America's energy system, of its blue-collar factory workers, of millionaire derivatives traders, corporate lobbyists, and private equity deal makers." Brother David shared ownership and participated in management of the company, which never sold stock to the public. Another brother challenged Charles by filing lawsuits but, over the decades, finally pulled back. The fourth brother never became involved in the operation of the business. As the author shows, the Koch brand does not appear on consumer products. Rather, the brothers became multibillionaires by controlling oil and gas production, paper products, derivatives trading in multiple commodities, engineering services, and much more. At first interested in influencing electoral politics to aid Koch Industries' profitability, Charles eventually expanded the corporate presence inside state legislatures and the U.S. Congress partly for ideological reasons. Labeling Charles' political philosophy is impossible, but there is definitely a kinship to libertarianism, with an emphasis on capitalist free markets untrammeled by government intervention. Charles opposed almost every policy of President Barack Obama and then battled various Donald Trump initiatives for entirely different reasons. Leonard is especially skilled at explicating the politics as well as at delineating how Koch Industries dominated industrial sectors, with natural gas extraction via fracking a timely recent example. This impressively researched and well-rendered book also serves as a biography of Charles Koch, with Leonard providing an evenhanded treatment of the tycoon. Leonard's work is on par with Steve Coll's Private Empire and even Ida Tarbell's enduring classic The History of the Standard Oil Company.
A landmark book.
Investigative business reporter Leonard (The Meat Racket) provides a far-reaching history from the late 1960s onward of the privately owned Koch Industries and its role in tearing away America's New Deal consensus. Depicting Charles Koch's control of the company as complete, Leonard says Koch, using a system called market-based management, has molded the company to mirror his libertarian philosophy. According to the author, after some acquisition missteps, brushes with government regulators, and a family schism, Koch Industries became successful by playing to its strengths of reacting to change quickly, taking a long-term view, and sourcing information from multiple channels. Leonard details the company's commodities trading, expansion efforts, and union busting. He shows how Koch's political power has intimidated elected officials, elected friendly ones, and influenced both tax and environmental policy to its advantage. VERDICT Based on six years of research and with a fast-paced writing style that interweaves multiple stories, this illuminating work on the exceedingly influential Koch and his company will be welcomed by all readers of business or politics. Leonard does for Koch what Andrew Sorkin's Too Big To Fail did for the 2008 financial crisis.—Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA