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Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power | [Steve Coll]

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (137 )
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  •  
    Zak Hartford, CT, United States 07-24-12
    Zak Hartford, CT, United States 07-24-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Please no more accents!"

    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!)

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jimmy Powell, OH, United States 05-10-12
    Jimmy Powell, OH, United States 05-10-12 Member Since 2010

    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.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great Fly on the Wall Perspective of ExxonMobil"

    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.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kenneth AUSTIN, TX, United States 06-23-12
    Kenneth AUSTIN, TX, United States 06-23-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Fantastic in multiple ways"
    If you could sum up Private Empire in three words, what would they be?

    Worth The Purchase


    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    I hope to find more books similar to this one.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard United States 06-07-12
    Richard United States 06-07-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Excellent Content but Subpar Narration"
    Would you listen to Private Empire again? Why?

    Yes, because it provides excellent insight into the complexities of running a major energy company in the 21st Century.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Exxon-Mobil because although it is portrayed as a villian throughout the book, it prevailed in the end!


    What three words best describe Malcolm Hillgartner’s voice?

    Mispronounced "Schlumberger" and "Total"


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, it is far too long and too deep


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Gwinn, MI, United States 05-20-12
    Amazon Customer Gwinn, MI, United States 05-20-12 Listener Since 2010
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    "Informative and Concise"
    What made the experience of listening to Private Empire the most enjoyable?

    My personal interest in the energy industry.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The creator of Exxon due to his eccentric behavior to conquer and control with his corporation at all costs.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No. Eat this elephant in small bites.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brian North Las Vegas, NV, United States 06-02-13
    Brian North Las Vegas, NV, United States 06-02-13
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    "Untold history"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I really enjoyed listening to this perspective of the oil conglomerates. I found the parts about foreign policies and how they effected countries particularly informative. It was a bit on the long side for listening and I really had to space it out. Dry at times, but very educational.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    miles rose lake, fl, United States 04-19-13
    miles rose lake, fl, United States 04-19-13

    Say something about yourself!

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    "glad this got published"

    Well i wouldn't be if i was driving a 79 white Cadillac Eldorado convertible with cowhide seats and horns on the hood with trunk full of cash!

    These dirty pigs had it coming. not that they still don't own our government; but at least we know the details.

    Good job steve, wherever your hiding.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher Shannon Houston, TX USA 01-31-13
    Christopher Shannon Houston, TX USA 01-31-13 Member Since 2012

    Texas Chris

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    "Great book...but"
    If you could sum up Private Empire in three words, what would they be?

    Comprehensive but biased


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Greg Hunter Midway 01-02-13
    Greg Hunter Midway 01-02-13 Member Since 2007

    FB

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    "Four Stars, amidst allegations of fraud.all"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Danny Fort Collins, CO, United States 11-09-12
    Danny Fort Collins, CO, United States 11-09-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Disappointing work from Coll"

    After reading Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, I was anxious to listen to Private Empire. What a total disappointment. His objectivity in the former work was completely absent from Empire. The best description I can provide is "Hatchet Job." According to this work, oil companies, and Exxon in particular, are responsible for all the world's economic and social ills. Part of this impression stems from the performance of the reader. The sarcasm was pervasive. Where possible, Coll also tried to smear government involvement in the oil business, especially where Republican administrations were in play. I would recommend this for fans of Michael Moore. I got the impression Coll was trying to emulate Moore with this book.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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  • Neil
    LEEDS, United Kingdom
    1/19/13
    Overall
    "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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • R
    Templeogue, Ireland
    12/26/13
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    "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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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