They were dubbed Texas’s Big Four for the long shadows they cast across the oil business. And Bryan Burrough, in his eminently readable biography The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, cuts through the not-entirely-false oilman stereotypes to tell us exactly how rich—billionaires when that was real money—and influential Roy Cullen, H. L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, and Sid Richardson were. The Vanity Fair special correspondent, who was born and raised in Temple, has done his homework. He professorially explains how gushers like Beaumont’s Spindletop at the turn of the twentieth century spurred a worldwide conversion from coal to oil that turned these four men and other Texas wildcatters like Glenn McCarthy (the rags-to-riches-to-rags inspiration for Giant’s Jett Rink) into the wealthiest men of their age. Then he gleefully details the excesses—private islands and over-the-top parties—that brought many, though certainly not all, of these powerful dynasties crashing back to earth. The careful reader will duly note that these petro-barons and their heirs were responsible in large part for the political rise of not only Lyndon Johnson, who brought electricity to the Texas Hill Country, but also George W. Bush, who brought $4 a gallon gas to the rest of us. Penguin, $29.95