Steve Coll investigates the largest and most powerful private corporation in the United States, revealing the true extent of its power. ExxonMobil’s annual revenues are larger than the economic activity in the great majority of countries. In many of the countries where it conducts business, ExxonMobil’s sway over politics and security is greater than that of the United States embassy. In Washington, ExxonMobil spends more money lobbying Congress and the White House than almost any other corporation. Yet despite its outsized influence, it is a black box.
Private Empire pulls back the curtain, tracking the corporation’s recent history and its central role on the world stage, beginning with the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989 and leading to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The action spans the globe, moving from Moscow, to impoverished African capitals, Indonesia, and elsewhere in heart-stopping scenes that feature kidnapping cases, civil wars, and high-stakes struggles at the Kremlin.
At home, Coll goes inside ExxonMobil’s K Street office and corporation headquarters in Irving, Texas, where top executives in the “God Pod” (as employees call it) oversee an extraordinary corporate culture of discipline and secrecy.
The narrative is driven by larger-than-life characters, including corporate legend Lee “Iron Ass” Raymond, ExxonMobil’s chief executive until 2005. A close friend of Dick Cheney’s, Raymond was both the most successful and effective oil executive of his era and an unabashed skeptic about climate change and government regulation. This position proved difficult to maintain in the face of new science and political change, and Raymond’s successor, current ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, broke with Raymond’s programs in an effort to reset ExxonMobil’s public image. The larger cast includes countless world leaders, plutocrats, dictators, guerrillas, and corporate scientists who are part of ExxonMobil’s colossal story.
The first hard-hitting examination of ExxonMobil, Private Empire is the masterful result of Coll’s indefatigable reporting. He draws here on more than 400 interviews, field reporting from the halls of Congress to the oil-laden swamps of the Niger Delta, more than 1,000 pages of previously classified U.S. documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, heretofore unexamined court records, and many other sources. A penetrating, newsbreaking study, Private Empire is a defining portrait of ExxonMobil and the place of Big Oil in American politics and foreign policy.
©2012 Steve Coll (P)2012 Penguin
Private Empire is an excellent investigation of Exxon's (and more recently Exxon-Mobil's) corporate conduct and policies over the last two decades or so. Coll begins with the Valdez spill and offers more of a series of case studies than any continuous history. At times a more detailed backstory of Exxon's pre-1989 development would help, but on the whole Coll's more journalistic approach is effective and interesting.
My only complaint here is the narration - and really it's the trend represented here more than the specific performance I object to. Malcolm Hillgartner's voice is fine, and he generally reads in a clear, expressive manner. But I appeal to him, and to all audiobook producers, to enact a moratorium on foreign accents, at least in nonfiction works. Unless done extremely well, the use of accents to distinguish quotes from speakers of different nationalities is totally distracting - at best comical, at worst borderline offensive. Listening to Vladimir Putin's words (which were spoken in Russian to begin with!) recited in a Bela Lugosi-like "Russian" accent in no way enhances my listening pleasure. Maybe this kind of dramatization is necessary or desirable in narrating works of fiction (though I'd prefer not), but when it's actual historical figures in a work of journalistic reporting, it's just ridiculous. (Ditto w/male narrator's reading women's words in a semi-falsetto. Yuck!)
I am a young-executive with a voracious appetite for great stories. I read and listen constantly, and am very proud of my book collection.
If you like to feel like an insider, then this book is for you! I really like Steven Coll's pacing, as he was able to get my attention immediately as he starts with the tragedy surrounding the Exxon Valdez and all the characters involved in this historical event. From there he takes you through the ups and downs of this enormous private enterprise, which I found very insightful.
The key to the success of this book is the neutral perspective assumed by Coll, as I hate books that try to portray something that is simply big as also automatically bad. I am a businessman, and this book allowed me some keen insights into the thinking and doings of a major employer, energy producer, and endless source of speculation and controversy.
This book is not going to change your life by any means, but it is a great impartial look behind the curtain of a major global player.
I would highly recommend this book to any students of business or generally to anyone who likes to glimpse the inside.
Comprehensive but biased
This comprehensive review of Exxon Mobil from the time of the Exxon Valdez spill to the present was an enjoyable listen to me as a professional in the oil and gas industry. While one can tell that the author attempted to present an unbiased review, his bias to the side of environmentalism is apparent at times.
Well OK the allegations of fraudulent writing are my allegations -but even so my title is literally true. Let me explain. Steve Coll tells us that Hugo Chavez won a referendum "amidst allegations of fraud". Literally true - there were allegations of fraud from his opponents. But would it not have been more truthful to include the fact that the Carter Centre found that the oppositions' allegations were baseless - or to mention that the Carter Center has found Venezuelan elections to be among the most free and accurate they have monitored? Hmmm - you judge my allegations.
Also interesting is that the theme of considerable chapters deals with the dictators of Chad and Equatorial Guinea - the authors perspective seems to be that it is really wrong for them to promise to use oil royalties to help their poor but do not do so. Yet when Hugo Chavez promises to and then actually does just that - he is criticized. The author discusses the pitiful Human Development index for Chad, but, Hmmm, no mention that Chavez's HDI has one of the largest increases in the World and - that under Chavez, poverty has decreased 50% and extreme poverty 67% - with free health care and education. Hmmm perhaps the author doesn't want us to get any ideas... you judge.
But hey - I highly recommend this book - there are many interesting events with interesting details told well - it is a great work of journalism - but keep in mind though that it would seem that Mr Coll, like all western governments and corporations would not really like to eradicate the "resource curse" from the south and that like all history "Private Empire" should be read as a fallible narrative.
Worth The Purchase
The in-depth look at running an oil company. The shear detail was impressive. Furthermore, the geopolitical aspects were explained well. For example, I had no idea of how much assistance Exxon received from the government on international matters. The look into the risk metrics used in the oil industry and the mind numbing lawsuits give me a greater respect for Exxon and "privately run" oil companies in general.
I hope to find more books similar to this one.
Yes, because it provides excellent insight into the complexities of running a major energy company in the 21st Century.
Exxon-Mobil because although it is portrayed as a villian throughout the book, it prevailed in the end!
Mispronounced "Schlumberger" and "Total"
No, it is far too long and too deep
The narrator showed his unfamiliarity with major foreign oil and oil services companies by mispronouncing "Total" as though it were the cereal Total, and misprouncing the last two syllables in "Schlumberger" like those in hamburger.
My personal interest in the energy industry.
The creator of Exxon due to his eccentric behavior to conquer and control with his corporation at all costs.
No. Eat this elephant in small bites.
If you're already interested in how corporate america controls government policy and how such corporations are born, then this is the book for you. To the average citizen, this may put them to sleep because of the depth of detail it goes into regarding Exxon Mobil's vast history.
Personally, this filled in a lot of holes with respect to a lot of other historical nonfiction books I've read on similar subjects so it was definitely worth the listen.
Steve Coll is a fantastic writer and clearly takes no shortcuts in his research. I've read all his previous works (multiple times, actually) and each truly fascinating, memorable, and a pleasure to dive into. Not so much the case with Private Empire, however, as there is simply no "there, there." I have to assume that Coll formulated his theory about Exxon being this big bad corporate entity, started writing, and got too far along before realizing there wasn't really anything scandalous to be said. Anecdotes about Exxon's "obsession with safety" and commissioning of academic studies favorable to their business (a practice used by pretty much every company out there which has the money to do so) are treated as "revelations," made to seem more scandalous than they are. I suppose if you were to read/listen to this book in a judgmental tone it would have a greater impact, but otherwise don't expect more than a couple hundred pages of fluff and filler.
Yes, this is his one book that hasn't been truly excellent so I think he deserves another shot. I'm sure whatever he writes next will be great.
The conservative culture, engendered by a top-down managerial approach, was interesting to learn about. The relationship between Lee Raymond and Dick Cheney is also fascinating.
Some people view certain practices considered standard at companies as "evil," so be careful.
The narrator should have spent some time looking up how to pronounce some of the frequently used oil industry terms/company names.
In the top ten percent
The amount of research that the author must have done, and his ability to present it all in an interesting fashion.
twenty odd hours - you must be joking
Excellent narrator. Struggled a little with some of African and UK accents but overall a sterling performance.
"Dense. But enjoyable"
This is a really good book but incredibly long and at times the detail get in the way of the narrative. I also find the chronology skips about as different issues and projects are discussed which can be confusing.
That said, the story is engaging and well read. I didn't know much about the oil industry and this was an eye opening account of the power players. At its best this is riveting stuff.
"Great book, butttt"
This is a great book. More like a thriller than a work of non-fiction. That said I would recommend to Audible that they don't use character voices for this type of book. It is distracting and takes from the story.
Also the version I have has regular skipping noises in it. Not clear what the cause is. I reinstalled the app and redownloaded the book, but this did not improve it.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.