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A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher [Bargain Price] [Hardcover]

by Joel Achenbach
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 5, 2011 1451625340
It was a technological crisis in an alien realm: a blown-out oil well in mile-deep water in the Gulf of Mexico. For the engineers who had to kill the well, this was like Apollo 13, a crisis no one saw coming, and one of untold danger and challenge.

A suspense story, a mystery, a technological thriller: This is Joel Achenbach’s groundbreaking account of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and what came after. The tragic explosion on the huge drilling rig in April 2010 killed eleven men and triggered an environmental disaster. As a gusher of crude surged into the Gulf’s waters, BP engineers and government scientists—awkwardly teamed in Houston—raced to devise ways to plug the Macondo well.

Achenbach, a veteran reporter for The Washington Post and acclaimed science writer for National Geographic, moves beyond the blame game to tell the gripping story of what it was like, behind the scenes, moment by moment, in the struggle to kill Macondo. Here are the controversies, the miscalculations, the frustrations, and ultimately the technical triumphs of men and women who worked out of sight and around the clock for months to find a way to plug the well.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was an environmental 9/11. The government did not have the means to solve the problem; only the private sector had the tools, and it didn’t have the right ones as the country became haunted by Macondo’s black plume, which was omnipresent on TV and the Internet. Remotely operated vehicles, the spaceships of the deep, had to perform the challenging technical ma-neuvers on the seafloor. Engineers choreographed this robotic ballet and crammed years of innovation into a single summer. As he describes the drama in Houston, Achenbach probes the government investigation into what went wrong in the deep sea. This was a confounding mystery, an engineering whodunit. The lessons of this tragedy can be applied broadly to all complex enterprises and should make us look more closely at the highly engineered society that surrounds us.

Achenbach has written a cautionary tale that doubles as a technological thriller.

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Editorial Reviews


Advance Praise for

A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea

“After all the spilled oil and spilled ink, this book stands as the most enthralling tale of the interminable Gulf drilling disaster of 2010. Achenbach has a rare talent for making the alien world of offshore oil accessible. Telling a harrowing story of humans wrestling with a technological and environmental crisis beyond their control, he gives us an inside perspective on torturous decision-making under the watchful eyes of a nation.”

--Tyler Priest, University of Houston, Senior Policy Analyst, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

“A brilliant expose of what occurred behind the scene. The readers will be enthralled. Anyone who is an energy user must read this book. That means everyone since it is hard to live without consuming energy.”

--Greg McCormack- Former Director of the Petroleum Extension service at the University of Texas

“If I want to find out what's just happened, I’ll switch on the radio. If I want to find out why it happened, I’ll read Joel Achenbach. He’s the best explainer alive."

--Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Washington Post and author of The Fiddler In the Subway

“A high-stakes adventure story, masterfully told.”

--Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God and Nonzero: The Logic of Human


"Here's what really happened at the spill -- a compelling look behind the curtain. Joel Achenbach, one of America's best journalists, digs up thousands of previously undisclosed documents to weave a deeply human story of failure, heroism, and the high price of oil addiction."

--David Von Drehle, author Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

About the Author

Joel Achenbach is a reporter for The Washington Post, and the author of six previous books, including The Grand Idea, Captured by Aliens and Why Things Are. He started the Washington Post's first blog, Achenblog, and has worked on the newspaper's national Style magazine and Outlook staffs. He regularly contributes science articles to National Geographic. A native of Gainesville, Florida and a 1982 graduate of Princeton University, he lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and three children.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451625340
  • ASIN: B0054U54T8
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,294,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Here's my book website:


Here's my boilerplate bio:

Joel Achenbach has been a staff writer for The Washington Post since 1990, started the newsroom's first online column in 1999 and the paper's first blog, Achenblog, in 2005. His seventh book, "A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea," an account of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and its aftermath, will be [whoa, make that WAS] published in April 2011 by Simon & Schuster. His syndicated column Why Things Are (1988-1996), which he began when he worked at The Miami Herald, appeared in 50 newspapers and three collections of the column were published by Ballantine Books. He has been a regular contributor to National Geographic since 1998, writing stories on such topics as dinosaurs, particle physics, earthquakes, extraterrestrial life, megafauna extinction and the electrical grid. Now assigned to the Post's national desk, he writes on science and politics and helped cover the Deepwater Horizon story. A 1982 graduate of Princeton University, he has taught journalism at Princeton and Georgetown University. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Mary Stapp, and three daughters.

In case that's too confusing, here's the basic point: I'm something that used to be known as "a newspaper reporter."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a Michael Lewis book April 11, 2011
I read A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea in two days - I hope that neither author minds the comparison, but it reads a lot like a Michael Lewis book. The book skillfully explains a complex issue told through the eyes of the quirky characters who had a front row seat to the disaster, which includes Mr. Achenbach himself. If you are a fan of the Achenblog or of his stories in the Washington Post, you won't be surprised to find yourself laughing out loud at times - which may seem inappropriate given the subject matter, but that is the charm of one of my favorite writers...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive book about the Macondo blowout April 20, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As other reviewers have said, this is as close to a page-turner as a non-fiction book can get, and gives a blow-by-blow and day-by-day account of what happened and why out in the Gulf of Mexico. And there could hardly be a better writer for the job than Achenbach, a self-professed science geek, but also a highly skilled "explainer" who can translate Engineer into English, as a colleague of his says. (Achenbach's writing and story-telling skills are amply demonstrated in his earlier works, "Captured by Aliens," a laugh-out-loud account of his travels among the people on the fringes of the UFO movement, and his serious-but-entertaining "The Grand Idea," the account of George Washington's plans to establish a canal system linking the Potomac River to the frontier America he'd explored and surveyed in his youth. As a science guy, Achenbach can hardly be topped, as his many years as a Washington Post reporter, National Geographic contributor, NPR guest, astronomy dude, and author of the mostly sciencey and often very droll "Why Things Are" series will attest. ("Captured/Aliens" should probably be a must-read for psychologists and behavioral science types, too, for its insights into the mindset of people who march to the sound of drums that are more than just a little different.)

People would dearly love for the Macondo blowout, the explosion aboard and the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, and the months-long effort to find a way to shut down the Well From Hell to have relatively simple explanations and a handful of clear-cut villains (how many of us were denied the pleasure of blaming it all on Dick Cheney, ex-CEO of Halliburton?) BP greed? Sloppy work and cutting corners? Hubris? Crass stupidity? Government bumbling? Alas, no.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a screen burner... April 11, 2011
By daktari
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I guess that is the modern equilivant of a page burner on Kindle! This was a great read and my kindle could hardly keep up with my reading... It described a very complex and protracted series of events in a way that was both entertaining and enlightening. I hope the author has already started reporting on the Japanese nuclear reactors.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars exclusive white house e-mails April 20, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book deserves a lot more attention. Achenbach obtained 19,000 White House emails that tell the real story of BP, Obama, and the gov't scientist hit squad sent in to ride herd on BP. Achenbach paints a squirming octopus of a disaster, puts us in the middle. Powerful, hilarious, rolls off the page.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crisis and Risk Management 101 April 25, 2011
Joel is a close friend and I will share he is as interesting in conversation as he is in written word. So there was no need for me to spend the weekend reading A Hole At the Bottom of the Sea when I could just as easily drink a beer with Joel on the back porch. But read it I did and I am so glad that I did. What Joel has written is the definitive case study on crisis management -- how to, how not to, and what the right moves and mis-steps will mean to the Gulf, the oil industry, and the Obama Administration. As always, Joel has deciphered the meaning of it all in a narrative that is as engaging as it is enlightening. A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea is required reading for any industry exec or government official responsible for managing risk.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Geology Meets Epistemology! April 22, 2011
By Maro
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I couldn't put this book down! It reads like a revelation, peppered with researched detail and clever metaphors. As each day of the crisis unfolds, Achenbach makes the reader privy to the science, politics, chaos and confusion that surrounded this unprecedented event. The Macondo itself becomes a looming character in the lives of the BP executives, the government officials and the engineering experts who are charged with trying to kill the horrid oil gush and PR debacle. Although never taking the environmental and personal traumas lightly, particularly when describing the panic on the part of the locals who shoulder the economic impact, Achenbach's unique word choices and images keep the reader focused. "Geology meets epistemology---always a recipe for sleepless nights" he writes. His Epilogue is prophetic when he predicts that there will be more disasters that our current technological knowledge is not prepared to handle.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, it's a page turner but a few shortcomings May 6, 2011
By Marph1
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I, too, had a hard time putting this book down. Author is very skilled in telling a complicated story, full of industry jargon and ever-changing relationships between the 2 major players. I would have given 5 stars except for lack of two things: a glossary and a few simple figures. Despite the author's efforts, I could not visualize this BOP and how it connected to (or housed?) various risers, side taps, and the non-functioning disconnect mechanism. Late in the book, Joel is explaining how the unexpected and disaterous flows made their way, ultimately, up to the drilling floor. Altho attempted, the pathway was not revealed by the text, due to jargon, at least. Again, a simple diagram would do wonders. These two are simple things to create (altho not by most) and lend themselves to a job for a junior research assistant (intern, newbie, etc) with results vetted by some experts who would enjoy such a review task. I am such in several fields not related to petroleum, the hardware, the flowing things, and so forth. I welcome such review requests. Altho the author mentions the huge water amounts being sprayed onto the burning gusher and its possibly endangering the rig, he doesn't tell us who wanted to keep the water going and why. You can't put out a burning gusher with water, as Red Adair became famous for providing the alternates. All you can do is sink the rig and they did. Is that how the authorities meant to change the pollution coming from that flare into liquid pollution? Perhaps; but I'd have liked the author to enlighten us. This is a very good book; I believe it could have been a great one. I'll read more of Mr. Achenbach, now.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent pulling together of all the threads of the oil disaster
Excellent resource for information on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I read many of Mr. Achenbach's articles as the crisis unfolded. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Patricia C. Zick
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and Highly Readable Analysis of the BP Deepwater Horizon...
Joe Achenbach is an exceptional writer who lays bare each step that led to the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Read more
Published 8 months ago by bonnie_blu
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story.
It is amazing what can go wrong when technology gets out of control! Greed must play a part in many of these events.
Published 14 months ago by Larry G. Goby
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice book
Nice book, interesting for oilfield trash like me, still comprehensible for "outsiders". Nice journalism, lot of suspension, but I disliked typical "blame the mud... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Piotr Sowinski
5.0 out of 5 stars A hold at the Bottom of the Sea
love the writing style and the way many details are presented in an interesting way. I could enjoy reading any part of the book
Published 15 months ago by penny good
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons Learned From Examining a Crisis
A 2010 explosion at a Gulf of Mexico oil rig killed 11 people. Several fail safe procedures designed to prevent oil from escaping into the water did not work A massive... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Leon L Czikowsky
4.0 out of 5 stars Gulf oil spill
Compelling book that does a somewhat lackluster job of explaining the cause of the accident but does provide a good recounting of the story behind fixing the problem.
Published 16 months ago by David
4.0 out of 5 stars Fellow author, J.A. (John) Turley
A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea is a well-done book. Joel Achenbach pulled together all available data, especially about the kill process, and wrote a credible and fun piece of... Read more
Published 19 months ago by J.A. (John) Turley
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good
Exceptional in detailing the whole containement process. Very well-written. Great book, simple to understand (for people familiar with Deepwater Drilling at least.
Published 23 months ago by Denis
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific review of REALLY complex stuff
The book is extremely well-written. Mr. Achenbach obviously took great care with every analogy, metaphor, and simile in the text, to explain highly technical trade and scientific... Read more
Published on April 11, 2012 by Richard E. Mattersdorff
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