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The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  2,198 ratings  ·  236 reviews
In The Big Rich, bestselling author and Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough chronicles the rise and fall of one of the great economic and political powerhouses of the twentieth century—Texas oil. By weaving together the epic sagas of the industry’s four greatest fortunes, Burrough has produced an enthralling tale of money, family, and power in the American cen ...more
Hardcover, 466 pages
Published January 27th 2009 by Penguin Press HC, The
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Tony Daniel
Feb 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
This is a fun tour. It's particularly strong on the early years of H.L. Hunt, Roy Murchison and Sid Richardson (the Bass family founder). The book loses its way a bit with the big detour through the Glenn McCarthy story (which deserves its own book). The main problem with the book is Burrough's strident liberal political correctness. It's "ultra-conservative" this and "ultra-conservative" that over and over again. Burroughs can't fathom why any of these people, whom he otherwise admires, might n ...more
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book about the BIG OIL BARONS. One of them took all his oil money and bought the Dallas Cowboys and bedded everyone of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Now that is what I call leading the league in my kind of scoring-ROFLMASO !!
I’ve been on a Texas binge lately. I’ve always found the state, its history, and its people to be intriguing. And the politicians? Is there a state that can compare with Texas when one begins to list the people who have served as governor of that state? Well, maybe next-door neighbor Louisiana comes close.

I read one time (and I would give credit to the source, but I don’t remember who wrote it) that, paraphrasing now, Louisiana governors had three primary responsibilities. Listed in the order of
Nov 29, 2019 rated it liked it
This is the story of Texas oil: famous wells that launched it all like Spindletop and Santa Rita #1 (which unlocked the Permian Basin); the "Big Four" oilmen - Cullen, Hunt, Murchison, and Richardson - who came to represent the state and its culture and its growing wealth; the afterlives of those men as they branched in to politics and the rise of Lyndon Johnson; their fall from grace from associating too closely with McCarthy. I didn't at all appreciate that Texas was a poor backwater until the ...more
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Is it any wonder Texas oilmen inspired soap operas like "Dallas" and "Giant?" Here's a cursory list of their goings-on:

>Old-fashioned Jew-hatin';
>Sidewalk sleepin';
>$290,000 in silver dollars;
>Wrestling matches at the symphony;
>Armed robbery;
>Billion dollar debts;
>One lobotomy;
>Hazard pay just for working in Texas humidity;
>Founding the AFC and the Dallas Cowboys;
>At l
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
I found this a really interesting telling of the oil fortunes and misfortunes in Texas; however, I would have liked to be provided with some information on the steam (boiler) engines that were used in the drilling! Burrough often tells of the hazards that the boilers were when the gushers came in, but does not detail at all the use of the boilers.
My family enjoyed a stay in the Shamrock Hilton when we moved to that area in 1973, it had an amazing pool! Also, as a software representative for IBM
Jul 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Very interesting on the history of oil in Texas. The first part of the book was fascinating: how oil was found using various combinations of money, luck, intelligence, and chutzpah. It's kind of technical, but Burroughs explains this key part of 20th c. Texas history in an engaging & clear way.

The stories of the families of the "big rich" were ok -- it was interesting to find out more about names I've heard of my whole life (as a Texan), but too sensationalistic for my taste.

I almost gave this
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Intriguing stories about the men (unfortunately mainly men) that I grew up hearing about in Texas. These are the backgrounds of the men who made Texas famous for oil and big money. Really enjoyed the gossipy but true life adventures. Sadly,many of these families have devolved into the right-wing politicians and now have brought shame onto Texas. (Actually they were doing this for decades but not as openly.) Very detailed and researched. Now I know who owned some of those houses I used to walk my ...more
Heather Mize
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting, entertaining, but the authors apparent disdain for the Big Rich is at times to apparent. I tend to appreciate more unbiased approaches when reading books like his. For all his trying Burrough doesn't have the same fluidity to his chronicle as Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day which makes epic stories that cross generations such as these accessible and readable. Overall, a good history of a sad turn of events in Texas oil history. ...more
Frank Stein
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Bryan Burrough is an indefatigable researcher with an eye for a good story. The problem is he finds so many good stories, and some not-so-good ones, that he can't sort the gold from the dross.

At the heart of this book, and at the best parts of it, are four oil fortunes, started by Roy Cullen, the HL Hunt, Sid Richardson (and his nephew Perry Bass), and Clint Murchison. All started as poor or near-poor boys, who made their fortune in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in some cases, like the Murchi
Apr 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
There are some areas of the country I find particularly interesting. Most I can attribute to a personal connection (VA, NC, CA), because of what happens there (LA, NYC) or some combination (DC). Others are just so peculiar that they make for fascinating reading. These tend to be on the geographical fringe; places like Alaska, Maine and Texas. Bryan Burroughs (co-author of Barbarians at the Gate) tackles some of the key creators of the modern Texas in the Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greate ...more
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very compelling and interesting "history" of the big four "wealthy beyond your wildest dreams" Texans. Burroughs discusses Roy Cullen, HL Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson. A few others are thrown in as other illustrations of the swaggering, egotistical, ill educated and small minded men who were lucky, ruthless and tenacious at a time when there was little in Texas beyond some sagebrush and skinny, malnourished cattle grazing on thousands of acres of brush and mesquite trees. A clever ...more
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-ficton
Excellent book about the big four oilmen (aka the Big Rich) and their families in Texas from the 1930s into the 1980s. These were powerful men/families that through their immense wealth influenced Texas and the country both socially and politically.

The Big Four were Roy Cullen (Houston), H. L. Hunt and Clint Murchison, Sr. (Dallas), and Sid Richardson (Fort Worth). Bryan Burrough follows the trials and triumphs of each man and family(ies) with great dedication. Several men were racists and anti
Wes Knapp
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. My family has interest in the East Texas Oil field and my Dad's great aunts grew up in Dallas and their kids grew up with HL Hunt's kids there. So a lot of the history is personal to me - however - anyone with an interest in the history of wealth development and the ups and downs of life in a family where the patriarch is often an all or nothing gambler - will find this book fascinating.

Must read for Texas History
May 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
A well-written and eye opening history of 20th-Century Texas. Did you know that Big Oil was behind McCarthyism, two Presidents Bush, and a million other hypocrisies? You did? Well, I think there's still new stuff to be discovered in here. You can be entertained and horrified at the same time... ...more
Michael Linton
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book had great stories but the book as a whole was hard to finish. It felt very disjointed and the flow was horrible. It felt like it was various stories (in great detail) that had no arch. Also, the book dove into stories of people that wasn't part of the Big Four. I would have preferred it so much more if it was presented as a collection of stories. ...more
Chris Phillips
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Got this book as a gift from my in-laws. Couldn't put it down! Fascinating story that follows four Texas oil families from early days on through to (most of) their demise. Highly recommend! ...more
Bryan Alkire
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well written and compelling Surprisingly good in fact
David Schwinghammer
THE BIG RICH is about how Texas wildcatters amassed huge fortunes during the Depression and went on to lose most of it in wild speculation.

Bryan Burrough concentrates on the big four: Clint Murchison, H.L. Hunt, Roy Cullen and Sid Richardson. They were able to acquire oil leases because the big oil companies, like Gulf, were short on money because of the Depression. H.L. Hunt got his start by “hijacking” another wildcatter, “Dad” Joiner who found the first great oil field in East Texas, a woodsy
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
The first part, which tells the story of 4 men who come from modest backgrounds and find (or somehow get control of) vast amounts of oil, is interesting. The next portion tells of their many excesses, immoral/illegal actions, and how much power they wielded, and is not quite as interesting but still worthwhile. The final portion chronicles the destruction of the impressive fortunes (leaving the families wealthy but not so impressively) and was slow reading. I struggled to care.
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me as a recent transplant in the state of Texas. Apparently, everything I needed to know about recent Texas history was in this book. Oil and the Dallas Cowboys is all you need to know about anything when it comes to Texas. This book examines the lives of 4 families and their patriarchs: The Hugh Roy Cullen, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson and H.L. Hunt families. It's a fascinating tale of "do it yourself" and "wildcatting" and how fortunes are won and lost in the oi ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
The early pages were a really interesting history of wildcatting for oil in Texas. Then the uneducated rednecks who found the oil got rich and things got ugly, as only obscene amounts of money can do. "The men who ran Texas oversaw a hierarchical, plantation-style culture, ruled by a southern aristocracy dedicated to harvesting the earth while keeping its workers subservient and poorly educated...The men of Texas oil, it appeared, had little to offer the American people beyond hatred...." The Bi ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, library-az
Wow! I didn't know what I was getting into with this thoroughly (probably too thorough) researched book about the Big Rich - oil tycoons that forever changed Texas-and to some extent the US as a whole.

The thing that really strikes me about these billionaires who made their living off of our national nonrenewable resources is how warped their sense of reality became. At the end, when one of them was 100s of millions in the hole because of his unethical behavior, the family still called him a "ma
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
The stories of the four richest oilmen in Texas were not interesting enough to keep me reading past half-way. I love stories about people working from nothing to become successful but these guys all seemed to have stumbled on to oil mostly due to dumb luck and some amount of perseverance. The perseverance is admirable but otherwise they didn't strike me (as of halfway through) as particularly admirable. I didn't make it to the extensive explanation of big oil's impact on the nation's politics bu ...more
Aug 15, 2010 rated it liked it
Surprisingly engaging book about the four pre-eminent Texas oilmen of the 20th century: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson and their legacy. Lots of family drama and political intrigue, as well as the fortunes won and lost along the way. Here are a few of the chapter titles to whet your curiosity:

* The Bigamist and the Boom
* "A Clumsy and Immeasurable Power"
* Sun, Sex, Spaghetti - and Murder

The author was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and is able to get into the
Oct 10, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Bryan Burroughs' account of the fortunes of the Hunts, Murchisons, Cullens and Sid Richardson/the Basses is excellent - revealing (especially on the subject of Sid Richardson) without being either hagiographic or overly-scandal-mongering. The insight into Texas politics was probably my favorite part - I didn't realize the strong antitrust fighting record or concerns over Eastern capital owning Texas resources and profit. Be warned, from Amazon reviews it sounds like some fact-checking could have ...more
Rebecca Fieler
Dec 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Growing up in Texas, the oil industry has always been looming in the background. So many of these names are plastered on buildings around the state, but I have never really known much about the people themselves. This book is very readable and very well written. So often "group biographies" jump like crazy, so you don't ever get a good feel for the people themselves, but that isn't the case here. The characters are larger than life, and the author really entwines their lives and their careers to ...more
John Walker
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The joys, sorrows and collapse of the Big Rich or the Big Four families of Texas oil. My wife's cousin, a petroleum engineer in Texas, convinced me to read this book. Usually I would say 'I'll check it out' then forget about it. It was his passion about this book that made me want to read it.

There are times you'll shake your head on how foolish some of these people were and there are some times where you burst out laughing at some of the antics. From the 1920's with wildcatters till the Hunt bro
Charles Dingman
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
But for its Texas epic length, I would have finished this fine book months ago, not put it aside for fiction several times. The story is colorful and well told, the characters so outrageous and the successes and failures so striking as to seem exaggerated in other contexts, but not here. This is the tale of those who struck it rich and how it changed us all.

Growing up, Texas was the really big state next door that had no mountains of its own whose residents' kids I met when my family went tent c
Mar 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wow, just finished. I am glad of Texas History way back in the seventh grade. This book is proof positive that money, fast money, quick money, will lead a man into the depths of h'ell. Just think of it - four families with a mass of wealth. Now it is all gone.
This is a Long Long book. I ended up giving in about 25 to 30 pages
at a time. Take your time with it. Lots of interesting facts and stories of politics, National polictics, and a World War to boot.
Do not miss this one if you are from Tex
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Bryan Burrough joined Vanity Fair in August 1992 and has been a special correspondent for the magazine since January 1995. He has reported on a wide range of topics, including the events that led to the war in Iraq, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, and the Anthony Pellicano case. His profile subjects have included Sumner Redstone, Larry Ellison, Mike Ovitz, and Ivan Boesky.

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