The gripping story of one American lawyer's obsessive crusade - waged at any cost - against Big Oil on behalf of the poor farmers and indigenous tribes of the Amazon rainforest.
Steven Donziger, a self-styled social activist and Harvard educated lawyer, signed on to a budding class action lawsuit against multinational Texaco (which later merged with Chevron to become the third-largest corporation in America). The suit sought reparations for the Ecuadorian peasants and tribes people whose lives were affected by decades of oil production near their villages and fields. During 20 years of legal hostilities in federal courts in Manhattan and remote provincial tribunals in the Ecuadorian jungle, Donziger and Chevron's lawyers followed fierce no-holds-barred rules. Donziger, a larger-than-life, loud-mouthed showman, proved himself a master orchestrator of the media, Hollywood, and public opinion. He cajoled and coerced Ecuadorian judges on the theory that his noble ends justified any means of persuasion. And in the end, he won an unlikely victory, a $19 billion judgment against Chevon - the biggest environmental damages award in history. But the company refused to surrender or compromise. Instead, Chevron targeted Donziger personally, and its counter-attack revealed damning evidence of his politicking and manipulation of evidence. Suddenly the verdict, and decades of Donziger's single-minded pursuit of the case, began to unravel.
Written with the texture and flair of the best narrative nonfiction, Law of the Jungle is an unpauseable story in which there are countless victims, a vast region of ruined rivers and polluted rainforest, but very few heroes.
©2014 Paul M. Barrett (P)2014 Random House Audio
"An enthralling true-life courtroom drama…Almost Shakespearean in scope, featuring a flawed protagonist with good intentions but tragically overreaching ambitions."(Booklist)
"In a story possessing ‘no shortage of knaves and villains,’ Barrett skillfully weighs the ethics of both Donziger and Chevron and finds them wanting." (Publishers Weekly)
"Law of the Jungle is a riveting piece of storytelling. The environmental insults make you furious and your heart breaks for the people whose ways of life are violated - but what happens after that challenges your beliefs about fairness and justice....This isn’t a simple David and Goliath story; it’s an engaging passion play that unfolds from the Ecuadorian jungles to the courtrooms of New York."(David Yarnold, President & CEO, National Audubon Society)
The author is even handed, pointing out the misdeeds of all involved, including credulous and lazy journalists and celebrities seeking to burnish their eco credentials; no one comes off as a hero in this account. The book was not as compelling as I had expected, however. Better accounts of legal wrangling over possible toxic emissions are A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr (fabulous!) and Tom's River, by Dan Fagin (very good).
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