This is a massive, and massively reported, book. But what’s most impressive is its refreshing balance and evenhandedness. Leonard does not judge the Kochs; he explains them ...
Almost as notable, from a journalist’s point of view, is the degree to which Leonard succeeds without the kind of cooperation all authors seek. He appears to have had only limited access to Koch executives, including, it appears, a single interview with Charles Koch. Tackling the biography of a secretive private company like Koch, which has little need to open itself to scrutiny, is a task of herculean difficulty ... writing the history of a private company without full access is akin to scaling El Capitan without handholds. But to a degree I’ve rarely seen, Leonard actually turns this lack of access into a strength. He does it by unspooling a series of granular set pieces and micronarratives, telling the stories of dozens of men and women inside and outside the company ... Each story illustrates one corner of a vast corporate empire ... Not since Andrew Ross Sorkin’s landmark Too Big to Fail...have I said this about a book, but Kochland warrants it: If you’re in business, this is something you need to read.
...an even-handed telling of how the two brothers from Wichita, Kansas, built up Koch Industries ... [Leonard] manages to dig up valuable new material, including evidence of the Kochs’ role in perhaps the earliest known organized conference of climate-change deniers ... Others have chronicled the cap-and-trade fight well, but Leonard penetrates the inner sanctum of the Kochs’ lobbying machine ... Leonard’s grasp of political details isn’t always completely firm ... But Kochland is deeply and authoritatively reported, and, while it can be overly cautious in the conclusions that it draws, it marshals a huge amount of information and uses it to help solve two enduring mysteries.
Kochland is a corporate history, lucidly told. Telling this story as well as Kochland does is harder than it looks, and not just for the obvious reasons ... Leonard doesn’t have much by way of rich narrative material to work with. Memorable stories are usually buoyed by memorable characters, but with few exceptions the Koch employees who talked to Leonard have imbibed the company culture and sound remarkably alike ... Even Charles Koch doesn’t make much of an impression; he seems less charismatic in Kochland than methodical and deliberate — like the engineer he was trained to be ... it’s Leonard’s depictions of Market-Based Management in action that are most illuminating here, and the light they give off is chilling ... Charles Koch calls Market-Based Management 'a way for business to create a harmony of interest with society.' The question Kochland raises is whether this 'harmony of interest' results in a place where anyone without a few billion to spare would actually want to live.