The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World

Sally Denton. Simon & Schuster, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0646-7
Greed, corruption, hypocrisy, and skullduggery shadow Bechtel, a mammoth construction company, in this dour corporate history. Journalist Denton (The Money and the Power) follows the contractor from its early days erecting the Hoover Dam through its current global omnipresence, building airports, pipelines, nuclear plants, and even a whole city in Saudi Arabia. She focuses on the company’s unsavory entanglements with the U.S. government and foreign potentates: for example, she ties a Reagan administration tilt toward Arab countries and against Israel to Secretary of State George Schultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, both ex-Bechtel executives. She suggests that they wanted to further the company’s interests in building Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a sinister chemical plant and other projects. (A lengthy digression paints the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as a noble victim of a Bechtel-related vendetta by Weinberger.) Denton’s claims about the company’s control over U.S. policy—“Bechtel’s political influence in Washington would set the stage for privatizing foreign policy”—are never fully backed up with evidence; more convincing are her revelations about the mundane corruption of Bechtel’s coziness with government officials, which wins the company lucrative no-bid contracts. Denton’s rambling narrative gets overwrought about Bechtel’s tentacular villainy, but enough of her charges stick to raise troubling questions about the company’s relationships with the powerful. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/07/2015
Release date: 02/16/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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