Book Review: “The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” Perfect For Bernie Sanders Fans & Conspiracy Theorists

Book Review: “The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” Perfect For Bernie Sanders Fans  & Conspiracy Theorists

Bernie Sanders Fans  and conspiracy theorists will LOVE The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World

From the jacket:

From the bestselling coauthor of The Money and the Power (which the Los Angeles Times called “one of the most important nonfiction books published in a half century”)—the inside story of the Bechtel family and the empire they’ve controlled since the construction of the Hoover Dam.

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The tale of the Bechtel family dynasty is a classic American business story. It begins with Warren A. “Dad” Bechtel, who led a consortium that constructed the Hoover Dam. From that auspicious start, the family and its eponymous company would go on to “build the world,” from the construction of airports in Hong Kong and Doha, to pipelines and tunnels in Alaska and Europe, to mining and energy operations around the globe.

Today Bechtel is one of the largest privately held corporations in the world, enriched and empowered by a long history of government contracts and the privatization of public works, made possible by an unprecedented revolving door between its San Francisco headquarters and Washington. Bechtel executives John McCone, Caspar Weinberger, and George P. Shultz segued from leadership at the company to positions as Director of the CIA, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State, respectively.

Like all stories of empire building, the rise of Bechtel presents a complex and riveting narrative. In The Profiteers, Sally Denton, whom The New York Times called “a wonderful writer,” exposes Bechtel’s secret world and one of the biggest business and political stories of our time.

So, first let me say I was really excited to read this book. I know “of” Bechtel and what they do but not much else about them as far as details and their history as they are a private company. I was really looking forward to learning about them.  That is a major reason this book was such a major disappointment. I have a general rule of never leaving bad book reviews (I normally just do not review) but I have to break it with this one. Writing a book is a massive undertaking and I recognize that but this is what it is…

The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World


Bechtel  – Who Will LOVE this book:

1- Ardent Bernie Sanders supporters

2- Conspiracy theorists

Within the first 15 pages the author recites the failure of the Iraq war (Bechtel’s fault???), states the company owes its entire success to being “subsidized by the US government”, links the company to Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Saddam Hussein and lets us know were it not for Republican administrations (Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush) the company would not be where it is today. The oddity in that is the company has been in business for >100 years…..did they not do any business when a Democrat was President? Although to be fair, Obama is chastised for not “completely” ridding the US of its nuclear arsenal be even here the real blame goes to George Schultz and Bechtel. In case you are wondering, the author seems to think George Schultz is the puppet master controlling the US government for decades now.

These two sentences are all you need to know about the book:

“It is a classic American story of money, power, bootstraps and courage, brawn and genius. Or at least that’s the myth of the Bechtel family dynasty”…

Bechtel was a major player in the development of the American west via highways, railroads,  dams and oil and gas pipelines and the author claims them getting these contracts and completing the work was due to the  “largesse if the US government”.

But, the government was handing out these contracts, someone had to get them….no? The work had to get done. Bechtel won them and completed the work and did so in a manner that the company received more of them and eventually received them from governments around the globe (offices in 50 countries and 53,000 employees).  The founder Warren Bechtel saw what was happening to America at that time and positioned himself and his company and workers to benefit. Isn’t that the “American Dream”?

Warren did not grow up rich and profit off his family’s existing ties. Rather he grew up a dirt poor farmer in Illinois.  He set out west with his family living in a converted railroad car and eventually made his fortune. Millions of other people had the same opportunity but Warren capitalized on it….why is this bad?

This book it a hit piece, pure and simple. Now, I am sure Bechtel has its warts just like every other company that has been around for 100 years, they have to. My problem with this book is that it is clearly grossly politically biased and the author set out to denigrate the accomplishments of the company. Even when mentioning a success she manages to insinuate there was something unseemly about it.  The fact Bechtel is a private company provides her ammo. Without decades of public SEC filings, almost no interviews via the family or management since its founding, its story is ripe for assumption and guilt by association.  This is where conspiracy theorist will love this book. Without “proof” to the contrary, one is free to make as many “claims” as they wish about something… does one prove them wrong?

I am sure an unbiased history of the Bechtel company is an amazing read… just won’t get that in this book……sadly…

Updated on

Todd Sullivan is a Massachusetts-based value investor and a General Partner in Rand Strategic Partners. He looks for investments he believes are selling for a discount to their intrinsic value given their current situation and future prospects. He holds them until that value is realized or the fundamentals change in a way that no longer support his thesis. His blog features his various ideas and commentary and he updates readers on their progress in a timely fashion. His commentary has been seen in the online versions of the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, CNN Money, Business Week, Crain’s NY, Kiplingers and other publications. He has also appeared on Fox Business News & Fox News and is a contributor. His commentary on Starbucks during 2008 was recently quoted by its Founder Howard Schultz in his recent book “Onward”. In 2011 he was asked to present an investment idea at Bill Ackman’s “Harbor Investment Conference”.
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