If you enjoy nonfiction and are looking for something to read, consider "Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty" by Daniel Schulman. (I listened to it as an audiobook downloaded to my smartphone, a convenient option available to Sandusky Library cardholders and to patrons of other local libraries that are part of the Clevnet system. I seldom bother to check out audiobooks from the library any more — I just download them using the Overdrive app.)
The Koch brothers — or to be precise, two of the four, Charles and David — have been widely vilified by the left for funneling millions of dollars to Republican candidates and are used as boogeymen for Democratic fund-raising efforts. I get fund raising emails from U.S Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, apparently because I write about the politics for the Sandusky Register. When I ran a search of my email inbox for the senator's name and "Koch brothers," I found dozens of messages.
The senator's June 29 missive, which asked if I could chip in at least $5, was typical of his oeuvre.
"The Koch brothers have shown a willingness to meddle in every vote they can, including a local issue about funding for the Columbus Zoo," the email said. "Special interests spent more than $40 million dollars against us in the last election, and we have no idea how much they’ll spend next time around. Our organization has to meet every goal to stay prepared."
Before they became elephant men trying to enable a GOP takeover of the federal government, Charles and David were libertarian purists. They funded many libertarian groups, including the Cato think-tank in Washington, D.C., and David was even the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate in 1980. (There are no limits if you are funding your own campaign, so the candidacy allowed Mr. Koch to pour lots of money into the race.)
Although Democrats may scoff, Charles and David come off rather better than the two apolitical (or relatively apolitical) Koch brothers. Charles and David are described as idealists, driven by the desire to advance their political beliefs and to give money to benefit health care and the arts. Bill Koch comes across as mainly interested in dating women (often several at the same time), accumulating money, buying art and wine, and cultivating his numerous feuds. Frederick Koch, the least political of the four, wanted lots of money for buying art and mansions.
Schulman's book is full of surprises, not the least that his book actually is quite fair. Libertarians who have endured an onslaught of biased stories from the likes of Salon and Alternet will find that Schulman, despite his affiliation with liberal "Mother Jones" magazine, does not let any bias he may have get in the way of getting the story right.
Koch-haters will like the book, too, however. The book is unsparing in its depictions of the Koch companies' environmental depredations, and the brothers' sometimes shady political maneuvers.
The book's relatively few readers who are libertarians will enjoy the stories about the Kochs' feuds with famous libertarians such as Murray Rothbard, and the Internet war touched off by their hostile takeover of Cato.
But politics is the least of the book's attractions. My attention flagged a bit at all of the anecdotes about the Kochs martialing armies of right wing plutocrats at yet another anti-Obama rally, a story that's been pretty well told already. It's like reading another rant about the New York Yankees trying to buy up all of the best players. Yeah, yeah, we know already.
I was more interested in the crazy stories about the brothers' bitter feuds, which involved extensive dirty tricks operations and huge stacks of money spent on spying and counter-espionage. There are also allegations that Bill Koch (kind of a real-life J.R. Ewing, in Schulman's telling) kidnapped one of his executives, anecdotes about the Kochs' fancy women (invariably much younger than their very rich consorts) and other tales, which could probably fuel several movies.
One of my favorite stories concerned the Boston museum exhibit that planned to show off art and expensive bottles of wine owned by Bill Koch. One of the centerpieces of the exhibit was supposed to be several bottles of old French wine for which Bill had paid $500,000. The wine bottles were engraved "THJ," allegedly proving that they'd once been owned by Thomas Jefferson.
Alas, a search of the records turned up suspicions that Bill had been cheated. Further investigation showed that the engravings had been made by power tools. Bill Koch, not exactly a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy, assembled a team of detectives and filed a barrage of lawsuits, eventually collecting large sums of money.
And that's just one of the stories. If you want to learn about Bill Koch's espionage when he competed in the America's Cup yacht race, read the book.