Monday, February 15, 2016

The Profiteers

The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World by Sally Denton 
Simon & Schuster: 3/1/16
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476706467

The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World by Sally Denton is a highly recommended corporate/social/political account of the start and the growth of the global megacompany the Bechtel Corporation.

This is a biography of the privately owned Bechtel Company and the family who founded it. Originally founded in 1898 "Bechtel grew from a scrappy Nevada road-grading operation at the dawn of the twentieth century to the world's largest construction company." Bechtel prides itself as the company that can "build anything, any place, any time." Their ability to tackle seemingly impossible projects in inhospitable locations and forbidding landscapes began when they constructed the Hoover Dam. Through five generations they have shown both incredible technological ingenuity and major industry innovations. 

From the Hoover Dam to projects in the Mojave Desert to the Persian Gulf, Bechtel has tackled the big, impossible projects for years. They have handled the Channel Tunnel, and the Big Dig. They have to constructed airports, power plants, and entire cities. Bechtel carted away the wreckage of the World Trade Center and rebuilt Iraq. They have harnessed the planet's natural resources, including hydroelectric, oil, coal, water, nuclear power, natural gas, and geothermal power.

Denton lays down a foundation for the combination of influence peddling combined with a base corporate craving for power by Bechtel. Rather than a completely impartial fact-based account very occasionally Denton's arguments for Bechtel's control over Washington become a bit too much of a stretch and aren't backed by absolute tenable connections. In a few cases the narrative veers into verbal machinations that seem to indicate a personal loyalty to political party connections and the motive of individuals has been assumed to be unpropitious.

However, clearly there are enough connections, and certain arguments are based by enough facts to raise concerns. It is alarming to read the account of the number of individuals in government who have ties to the Bechtel Company and have worked for them while still in government over the years. Denton explores the strong connections of the company to the government and how they have been "inextricably enmeshed" in U.S. foreign policy for seven decades.  Much of their work involves government contracts. Denton outlines their influence peddling through their government connections. While no one at Bechtel cooperated with Denton, they did deny any influence peddling.

The narrative also includes information about the Jonathan Pollard espionage case. Pollard passed classified information to Israel about neighboring Middle Eastern countries and received what many people think was an overly harsh sentence. Several Bechtel executives/Washington insiders may have been involved in his punitive sentence. (Or it could be simple the sentence was harsh because Pollard was passing intelligence information to another country.)

This is very well written and researched and should be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys contemporary U.S. history, and political science. Denton includes extensive notes, bibliography, and an index.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

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