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Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power Hardcover – May 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Coll employs language that’s plain, clear, and free of accusation. Though some of the details recounted across the sprawling narrative of Private Empire are outrageous, the reporting is deep and fair. — Coral Davenport


 “ExxonMobil has met its match in Coll, an elegant writer and dogged reporter… extraordinary… monumental.” --THE WASHINGTON POST

Fascinating… Private Empire is a book meticulously prepared as if for trial, a lawyerly accumulation of information that lets the facts speak for themselves… a compelling and elucidatory work.” --BLOOMBERG

Private Empire is meticulous, multi-angled and valuable… Mr. Coll’s prose sweeps the earth like an Imax camera.”
— Dwight Garner, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"ExxonMobil has cut a ruthless path through the Age of Oil. Yet intense secrecy has kept one of the world's largest companies a mystery, until now. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power is a masterful study of Big Oil's biggest player… Coll's in-depth reporting, buttressed by his anecdotal prose, make Private Empire a must-read. Consider Private Empire a sequel of sorts to The Prize, Daniel Yergin's Pulitzer-winning history of the oil industry… Coll's portrait of ExxonMobil is both riveting and appalling… Yet Private Empire is not so much an indictment as a fascinating look into American business and politics. With each chapter as forceful as a New Yorker article, the book abounds in Dickensian characters.”

"Coll makes clear in his magisterial account that Exxon is mighty almost beyond imagining, producing more profit than any American company in the history of profit, the ultimate corporation in 'an era of corporate ascendancy.' This history of its last two decades is therefore a revealing history of our time, a chronicle of the intersection between energy and politics."

"Groundbreaking... Masterful as a corporate portrait, Private Empire gushes with narrative."
— AMERICAN PROSPECT --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 685 pages
  • Publisher: The Penguin Press; 1st edition (May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781594203350
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203350
  • ASIN: 1594203350
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (150 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steve Coll is a writer for The New Yorker and author of the Pulitzer Prize- winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. He is president of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington, D.C. Previously he served, for more than twenty years, as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and ultimately as managing editor of The Washington Post. He is also the author of On the Grand Trunk Road, The Deal of the Century, and The Taking of Getty Oil. Coll received a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism and the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for outstanding international print reporting and the 2000 Overseas Press Club Award for best magazine reporting from abroad. Ghost Wars, published in 2004, received the Pulitzer for general nonfiction and the Arthur Ross award for the best book on international affairs.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

216 of 228 people found the following review helpful By Richard of Connecticut VINE VOICE on May 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a reader you can never really explain it, but a truly great author can make anything come alive while others will put you to sleep. Steve Coll is a Pulitzer Prize winner author of Ghost Wars - the Secret History of the CIA, which is another book you just can't put down. Private Empire is special, and the title is so appropriate, a company that has been in business for over a 100 years. It has seen 19 American Presidents come and go, and yet it remains the dominant energy company in the world, and this book covers the whole story.

There is very little devoted to the early history of the company. As we all probably know John D. Rockefeller created the Standard Oil Trust and when it was broken up by the Trust Busters in the early 20th century, one of the spin-offs was the early ancestor to what is now Exxon which eventually combined with Mobil Oil to form ExxonMobil. Rockefeller controlled 14% of the American economy at one point, and oil has remained our dominant energy source ever since.

What a book, what a story for Exxon is the tale of 20th century America and our country's rise to both prominence and dominance in the world both politically and economically. A company so powerful that it considers itself in many ways a state within a state with an internal security force the equivalent of the Secret Service that guards our President. And why not, Exxon has recruited the best of the retired Secret Service agents to develop, install, and maintain a security shield around this company's behavior and its employees.

The book devotes a chapter to the kidnapping and death of Exxon executive Sidney Reso and how CEO Lee Raymond completely revamped the entire company to ensure that it would not happen again.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By las cosas on May 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A Pulitzer Prize winning New Yorker author writes a vast book about the largest corporation in the United States. You can picture the book, you say. Long on research, including large numbers of interviews with people who refuse to be quoted by name? Yes. Engaging distillation of technical information into a readily understood summary? Yes. Characters and scenes drawn with a cinematic vividness? Yes. Revelations that require the reader to rethink his or her basic understanding of the book's subject? Well no.

I spent most of the book's 700 pages waiting for The Revelation. The Secret. The...well, anything. This is certainly more the fault of my expectations than any deficiency in the book. But it is odd that the author would have spent such a huge amount of time and energy writing such a detailed book about two decades of ExxonMobil corporate history without a central theme. Maybe I have simply read too many books about the oil industry and spend too much of life reading business newspapers and magazines, but the general tale told in this book is very well known. What is less well known is the details of the various strands of the story, and those strands are told with exquisite detail, well supported by copious footnotes, even though many (most?) of the cited interviews fail to name the individuals cited.

The book starts crisply with a factual description of the hours leading to the Exxon Valdez disaster and ends two decades later with BP's Deepwater Horizon fiasco. In between we are given an inside look at the corporate culture and operating environment of ExxonMobil. The book consists almost entirely of dozens of intimate scenes.
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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful By P. Woodland on May 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This was a door stopper of a book. I haven't had a real hefty book for a bit and it was a real delight to sit and hold a real solid book again. And what a book it was. Starting with the the Exxon Valdez spill and book-ending with the Deepwater Horizon disaster Private Empire details the arrogance that is ExxonMobil.

Mr. Coll's writing style is easy even when explaining oil extraction methods or the geopolitics of oil and natural gas rights. It reads almost like a suspense novel except that it's all true. And that is what makes it so scary. I found myself turning page after page reeling at my naivete. I think I want to go back to being uninformed. It's a happier state of mind.

Mr. Coll's research for the book was quite extensive and the book is heavily footnoted. He conducted over 400 interviews with people great and small and he weaves what they shared together with facts gathered from all over the world to take the reader on a ride from oil fields to the offices of political power in this country and beyond. It was utterly fascinating to get a peak inside the Borg like culture of Exxon. Tow the company line or find another job.

I have not enjoyed a non fiction book this much in a long, long time. I just wish I wasn't so surprised at what I learned.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Review of Coll's Private empire by Paul F. Ross

Exxon was the venue for an important part of this reader's career, so discovering Coll's history in the bookstore on one of my recent visits, and seeing that it covered recent years ( Exxon Valdez 1989 - Deepwater Horizon 2010 ), won my immediate interest, purchase, and early reading. ExxonMobil is a private empire, its annual revenues exceeding the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many nations. It is in

Coll, Steve Private empire: ExxonMobil and American power 2012, The Penguin Press, New York NY, xvi + 685 pages

the oil business, worldwide. Coll helps the reader see the oil business although the view is largely through the eyes of the ExxonMobil chief executive officer (CEO). Opening with the grounding and oil spill of the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and closing with the oil spill following the well blowout beneath BP's Deepwater Horizon in 2010, Coll captures the ebb and flow of oil nationalism, the politics of dealing with nations sitting on oil reserves, growing environmental awareness, risk management, changing oil drilling and oil transport technologies, changing energy markets, and the personalities accompanying changes in corporate leadership. ExxonMobil is one of the world's large oil companies, rivaled by Shell and BP among the investor-owned variety and by nationalized companies in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, Nigeria, and other locations (Iran, Qatar, Dubai, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, etc.). Coll maintains a degree of objectivity. His account is worth the read.
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