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A former St. Louis reporter has won a prestigious award for his upcoming book on how the Koch brothers' company made the biggest private fortune in the United States.

Christopher Leonard, who worked for the Associated Press here from 2005 to 2012, won the $25,000 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for "Kochland." The prize, given by the Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, was announced Monday.

Leonard, a native of Kansas City, Mo., and graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is still writing the book. "It's so hard to finance deep reporting these days," Leonard said by telephone from Washington, D.C. "I'm so glad there are things like this out there to help a reporter do the work."

Leonard, who reported on national business stories for the AP, is now a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. 

"Kochland" will profile the secretive Koch Industries, starting in 1967. "It's going to show how Charles Koch built "the largest private fortune in the United States," Leonard said. "It's a remarkable business story."

Together, Charles and David Koch are more wealthy than Bill Gates, Leonard says. Their company does not disclose financial details because it is private.

Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan., "seems to touch every corner of our economy," Leonard says. His book will show the firm through the reflection of American business history over the past 40 years.

"I think the story of the business has never been told," he says. Other books, such as Jane Mayer's "Dark Money," have also focused on the Kochs, but more from a political point of view, he says.

"Kochland" will be published by Simon & Schuster, possibly late next year. The publisher describes the book as taking "readers inside a corporation where employees speak their own coded language, follow a unique business philosophy, and work in a sprawling enterprise that touches virtually every corner of the American economy, from energy to manufacturing to high finance."

The Lukas Work-in-Progress Award goes "to aid in the completion of a significant work of nonfiction on an American topic of political or social concern," according to the prize description.

In 2014, Leonard, now 41, published "The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business." (He still gets calls from lawyers trying to figure out the meat industry.)

Working for the New America Foundation allows him to do deep nonfiction reporting without a daily journalism deadline. A recent article about a pipeline accident was in BloombergBusinessweek.

"Books are tough," he says. "When you are doing serious nonfiction, nobody's getting rich off this." The Lukas prize will help pay for travel expenses, research and fact checking.

The runner-up for the award, Helen Thorpe, who is working on "The Newcomers," will receive $5,000.

In addition, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize was won by Gary Younge for "Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives," published last year. 

Tyler Anbinder won the Mark Lynton History Prize for "City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York."

For more information on all of the 2017 awards, click here.