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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 Ratings

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  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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  • Overall
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  • Story

Even handed, well researched, and well done.

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.

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  • fred
  • greensboro nc
  • 07-09-12

Oil is here to stay - learn about it

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.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Kenneth
  • AUSTIN, TX, United States
  • 06-23-12

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 2 people found this review helpful

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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 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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discusting

we are always here how Oil spills blood all over... but to know the exact way and the mind behind it you must read this book .
it is disgusting how money and greed can go so far.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Brian
  • Tampa, FL
  • 06-02-13

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 1 people found this review helpful

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You Probably Don't Know About Exxon

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

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.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful