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The conventional answer is that a popular uprising against "big government" led to the ascendancy of a broad-based conservative movement. But as Jane Mayer shows in this powerful, meticulously reported history, a network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.
The network has brought together some of the richest people on the planet. Their core beliefs--that taxes are a form of tyranny; that government oversight of business is an assault on freedom--are sincerely held. But these beliefs also advance their personal and corporate interests: Many of their companies have run afoul of federal pollution, worker safety, securities, and tax laws.
The chief figures in the network are Charles and David Koch, whose father made his fortune in part by building oil refineries in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. The patriarch later was a founding member of the John Birch Society, whose politics were so radical it believed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. The brothers were schooled in a political philosophy that asserted the only role of government is to provide security and to enforce property rights.
When libertarian ideas proved decidedly unpopular with voters, the Koch brothers and their allies chose another path. If they pooled their vast resources, they could fund an interlocking array of organizations that could work in tandem to influence and ultimately control academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and, they hoped, the presidency. Richard Mellon Scaife, the mercurial heir to banking and oil fortunes, had the brilliant insight that most of their political activities could be written off as tax-deductible "philanthropy."
These organizations were given innocuous names such as Americans for Prosperity. Funding sources were hidden whenever possible. This process reached its apotheosis with the allegedly populist Tea Party movement, abetted mightily by the Citizens United decision--a case conceived of by legal advocates funded by the network.
The political operatives the network employs are disciplined, smart, and at times ruthless. Mayer documents instances in which people affiliated with these groups hired private detectives to impugn whistle-blowers, journalists, and even government investigators. And their efforts have been remarkably successful. Libertarian views on taxes and regulation, once far outside the mainstream and still rejected by most Americans, are ascendant in the majority of state governments, the Supreme Court, and Congress. Meaningful environmental, labor, finance, and tax reforms have been stymied.
Jane Mayer spent five years conducting hundreds of interviews-including with several sources within the network-and scoured public records, private papers, and court proceedings in reporting this book. In a taut and utterly convincing narrative, she traces the byzantine trail of the billions of dollars spent by the network and provides vivid portraits of the colorful figures behind the new American oligarchy.
Dark Money is a book that must be read by anyone who cares about the future of American democracy.
- ISBN-13: 9780307970657
- ISBN-10: 0307970655
- Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
- Publish Date: January 2016
- Dimensions: 5.9 x 5 x 1.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.8 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-30
- Reviewer: Staff
This sprawling narrative from New Yorker staff writer Mayer traces the origins of a well-funded libertarian brand of conservatism led by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and their network of deep-pocketed, like-minded allies. Voice actress Potter resists the temptation to present the provocative portions of Mayer’s extensive research with broad-brush caricatures. Rather, she lets Mayer’s complex historical and biographical story threads take shape gradually, allowing actual character development. The Koch brothers come alive, complete with their many eccentricities and rivalries. Other figures who—thanks to the compelling blend of Mayer’s prose and Potter’s narration—leave an especially memorable imprint include Art Pope, a North Carolina discount store magnate; and Richard Mellon Scaife, the late heir to banking and oil fortunes. Granted, the quotations from Pope—whose hundreds of stores are staffed by, and patronized by, low-wage workers—about poverty being mostly a matter of individual choice will inflame progressive readers, but Mayer and Potter work to develop a broader perspective beyond easy sound bites. A Doubleday hardcover.(Jan.)
Audio: The money trail
According to Forbes’ list of the richest people in America, Charles Koch is number four and his brother, David, is number five. Put their billions together, add their fervid belief in conservative-libertarian principles, their determination to make what had been fringe ideas part and parcel of the Republican Party’s thinking, their ability to create the multipronged structure to do it and the Citizens United decision, and you have a changed political scene in America. Jane Mayer’s fascinating, scrupulously researched Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, performed with competent composure by Kirsten Potter, details the Koch brothers’ background and Koch Industry’s ascendancy, adding much about the other billionaire players who belong to this secretive network of the super-wealthy. Timely investigative reporting at its best, Dark Money is especially vital during this long, unusual presidential campaign.
One of the best things about an ongoing series is that you know that the hero or, in this case, the heroine, will make it through no matter how tough the going gets. And in Jacqueline Winspear’s latest, Journey to Munich, convincingly read by Orlagh Cassidy, Maisie Dobbs takes on a risky mission for the British Secret Service. Since her beloved husband died flying an experimental plane and she miscarried their child, Maisie has been reflecting on her life and her future as she tries to find a path back to wholeness. Now in England after working as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War, Maisie agrees to go to Nazi Germany disguised as the daughter of a brilliant British industrialist imprisoned in Dachau for two years. The Brits have ransomed his release, but he must be escorted out by a family member. This is Munich in 1938—danger and intrigue are as much a part of the scene as the brown-shirted storm troopers, and Maisie, wearing an itchy wig and carrying a loaded gun in her handbag, must navigate Hitler’s sadistic henchmen. Maisie amazes, again.
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Riveting, tour de force, gripping, unputdownable, propulsive—these are usually just clichés used to hype a new thriller. Not this time. Redemption Road, John Hart’s devastatingly dark new novel, is all of the above and more. And narrator Scott Shepherd’s perfectly paced, subtle Southern cadences make this a relentlessly compelling audio. Elizabeth Black, a North Carolina police detective, is at the center of a web of intricately woven subplots. She’s tough, talented, driven, but her deep emotional scars and total commitment to young victims can upend her judgment. Liz is under investigation for the overzealous shooting of two men who brutally raped a teenage girl; Adrian, a cop she loves who was wrongly convicted of a heinous murder, is paroled after 13 years; and someone’s on a killing spree modeled on the crime Adrian was blamed for. A lot of ends to tie up, a lot of redemption needed, and Hart does it with masterful aplomb.