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
An investigation into a giant oil company and the people who run it and how it manages
its public profile and its engagement in places where there is little or no rule of law.
The book does not give answers but it does pose lots of questions.
I had some trepidation about getting this book as it is about that big boogeyman of oil Exxon-Mobil. Nor was I familiar with Coll's writing or journalism either, so that was not something that I could lean on to support a purchase. This book was purchased more or less on whim and a fancy of wanting to know more about oil, energy, and energy policy. I was concerned that this book would be too narrowly focused on Exxon-Mobil and not really inclusive of the industry or energy policy as a whole. I was relieved to find that this was not the case. It is a good primer for both energy policy and the oil industry. The book was illuminating and well done. And by the end I had a respect for Exxon-Mobil that I would have NEVER, EVER thought possible.
Oil is a very dirty business. The stuff is dirty when it comes out of the ground. Exxon's business locations are dirty and out of the way. Sure, every business has its dirty little secrets, but the oil industry affects all of us. A rather long book does not seem so long because the industry is very complicated. Two-sided arguments throughout show that morality can trump business and sometimes business trumps morality.
Artist who wants to go to space
For everyone who likes to rail against the most profitable company in the world, Get Informed! Love 'em or Hate 'em this Exxon-Mobile is here to stay, and not only stay, but define our world of energy. This is a spectacular read, full of historical and geographical anecdotes that illuminate the dark icky world of oil.
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