The Big Rich - a Rich Read

by CruiseReady

The Big Rich chronicles the real life struggles, exploits, scandals, successes and failures of the first Texas oil millionaires. Their lives were truly wild rides!

Last year, at our annual family week, a relative handed me a copy of The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes. He should have known better.

I had purposely left reading materials behind. I'm terrible at socializing when there's a book to be read, and was determined to be more engaged for once. The Big Rich spoiled that resolution. Luckily, family week outlasted the book, and I enjoyed both.

What a fun read it was! The bonus for me was the utter appropriateness of reading about the true exploits of the fascinating characters of the early days of Texas oil while visiting the Lone Star State myself.

While a visit to longhorn country may or may not be on your agenda any time soon, perhaps reading Bryan Burrough's amazing account of these high living, risk taking wildcatters and the world they inhabited should be. It's real big, real gritty, real life stuff.

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

by Bryan Burrough

Even if you only read fiction, here's a true account you won't be able to put down. The real life exploits of some of the big names of the early Texas oil rush read like a financial adventure tale mixed with a soap opera on steroids.

Some of their names you've heard, some you may not have:  H.L. Hunt, Hugh Roy Cullen, Sid Richardson, Clint Murchison, Glenn McCarthy, and others.

Their struggles helped build a nation, created (and destroyed) immense personal fortunes, precipitated scandals, and fostered an attitude that persists to this day.  


For The Big Rich

Did you know that  the world's richest man  was a bigamist?  He kept three separate families, and fathered fifteen children.  AND he felt perfectly justified in doing so.  

The Dallas Cowboys came to be due (at least partially) to the ego of one character, who was aggressively competing with another.

He might or might not have lit cigars with hundred dollar bills, but one of these men did wear them as bow ties.

And, there's more... dry holes, gushers, private islands, intrigue, market manipulation, illegal wire tapping, political influence, billions made, traitors, and still more.  

It's truly a real life example of reality being stranger than fiction.  And inspiration for fiction.  These were the times and the the men that inspired the movie Giant (starring James Dean) and the TV series Dallas.

Texans - a Breed of Their Own

A Breed Shaped in Part by the Early Oilmen

I'm not a Texan, but I married one. I also worked for Exxon - the biggest of big oil - for several years.  So, I know whereof I speak when I say Texans are a breed apart.  And, lest you think otherwise, that's not a disparaging remark.  It's simply recognition of something rather remarkable.

 There is a special spirit you find there that you won't easily find elsewhere - unless you find a true Texan.  They carry it with them, and it's recognizable.

Present day Texas, and the modern Texan spirit was shaped, in part at least, by the exploits - both successful and otherwise - of some of the men Burrough wrote about in this book.  To read The Big Rich is to gain a greater understanding of what Texas was about then, and perhaps still is.  If you want to understand YOUR Texan a bit better, read this book. 

Brian Burrough

Author of The Big Rich

Though he was born in Tennessee, Brian Burrough spent his childhood in Temple, Texas.  Growing up in the Lone Star State is enough to earn a person the status of  'Honorary Texan.'   

Perhaps he did his research for the material in The Big Rich during the years he spent in Dallas, as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  He certainly earned his early credentials during that time.  It was while working as a reporter for that paper that he was awarded the Gerard Loeb Award for excellence in financial journalism not once, but three times.

His accomplishments as an author include two that would make just about any writer proud:  Publishing a best seller, and having a book made into a movie.

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco went to the number one spot on the New York Times Best Seller List amidst rave reviews.  I highly recommend it, too!

Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34  became the basis for 20th Century Fox's 2010 movie, Money Never Sleeps, starring Michael Douglas.


Other Books by Brian Burrough

Including his Bestseller, Barbarians at the Gates
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

“One of the finest, most compelling accounts of what happened to corporate America and Wall Street in the 1980’s.”—New York Times Book ReviewA #1 New York Times bestseller and a...

View on Amazon

Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34

Coming in Summer 2009, the major motion picture from Universal Studios "ludicrously entertaining" (Time), Public Enemies is the story of the most spectacular crime wave in Ameri...

View on Amazon

Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Viol...

From the bestselling author of Public Enemies and The Big Rich, an explosive account of the decade-long battle between the FBI and the homegrown revolutionary movements of the 1...

View on Amazon

Texas Still Has Oil

And Wildcatters are Still Looking for it

Pumping West Texas Oil

Image Credit 

A pumpjack near Midland, Texas (P.D.)

Men from small companies still roam the big state of Texas, drilling exploratory holes, looking for oil and natural gas.  They're a lot different than the men in Burrough's book.  But they are their successors. 

Today, they're referred to as 'Independents.'  That's because the smaller companies they work for are independent of the major oil companies.  These fellows are a modern version of Hunt,  Murchison, and others.  Their stories and life styles may not be nearly as wild, but they still follow in those footsteps of the early wildcatters, hoping to strike it rich.


Will You Be Reading The Big Rich?

Or Have You Already ?
Updated: 02/16/2017, CruiseReady
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DerdriuMarriner on 09/13/2017

CruiseReady, Have you seen the movie There Will Be Blood, which fictionalizes ugly aspects of beneficiaries and creators of California oil booms? It's interesting, in light of The Big Rich and your article, that Texas indeed is almost another country since, as mentioned in How the States Got Their Shapes, which I've reviewed on Wizzley, the state has its own power grid and its own world-famous grill styles. Also, I read that 36th First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson's chili holds honors as the most requested recipe from White House events.

CruiseReady on 05/11/2015

Those early oil men were wild characters, and their exploits would rival any fictional story, I think.

Mira on 05/11/2015

Sounds like an interesting book. I prefer fiction but I may read something like this if the writing, too, is attractive -- and it sounds like it is.

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