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Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power Hardcover – May 1, 2012
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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.”—SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"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."—Bill McKibben, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS
"Groundbreaking... Masterful as a corporate portrait, Private Empire gushes with narrative."—AMERICAN PROSPECT --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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What I especially appreciated about this title was Coll's ability to provide both sides of the story, so that it is not just another attack on "Big Oil", but also gives credit to ExxonMobil in the areas where it surpasses its competitors in the quality of its operations (especially with regards to worker safety), and the reasoning behind some of their faults (such as Lee Raymond's refusal to acknowledge climate change arguments).
The book is in no way a puff piece for ExxonMobil, and actually concludes with a rather dire outlook on the future of its operations; but it is a fair and balanced history of one of the most successful--and reviled--companies in the world. Overall a great and informative read.
Mr. Coll chose to focus on ExxonMobil in the post-Cold War era. Daniel Yergin's THE PRIZE provides keen insights into the rough-and-tumble global oil industry during the preceding century. Utilizing over 400 interviews, exhaustive documentary research (including Wikileak telegrams), and personal visits to ExxonMobil facilities around the world, Mr. Coll provides a coherent and credible picture of how this ccmpany functioned under CEOs Lee "Iron Ass" Raymond (1993-2005) and Rex Tillerson (2006-). The nature of ExxonMobil was clearly expressed by Raymond: "I'm not a U. S. company and I don't make decisions based on what is good for the U. S." and "Presidents come and go; Exxon doesn't come and go."
Exxon was driven by a long-term necessity to replace and expand its long-term proven oil and gas reserves and to maintain a high return on investments This was becoming increasingly difficult in the post-Cold War world. It triggered the blockbuster acquisitions of Mobil in 1998 and, for its anticipated gas reserves, XTO in 2010.
The search for new reserves rendered ExxonMobil increasingly dependent on volatile and often corrupt areas ranging from Aceh in Indonesia to Chad and Equatorial Guinea in Africa. ExxonMobil maintained a pragmatic position towards 'human rights' and corruption in these areas while often benefiting from U. S. government direct and indirect support. Quite frequently U. S. officials would subsequently become ExxonMobil employees.
ExxonMobil operated at the highest levels, whether in Russia or in Washington. For example, in the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill, Raymond, after a chat with President H. W. Bush, swiftly scuppered Coast Guard Commandant Paul Yost's urgent demand for an additional 5000 people to clean up the beaches.
ExxonMobil was managed with military discipline. Headquarters controlled both policy and specific details, often with PowerPoint slides. Given Raymond's total rejection of climate change arguments, ExxonMobil Washington lobbyists adhered to this position with lock-step precision. Later, when CEO Tillerson found it necessary to alter this position and even express moderate support for a carbon tax, Exxon's Washington apparatcheks immediately did a 180.
The BP Deepwater Horizon massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 involved, by association, other major oil companies, including ExxonMobil. Though the company had significantly enhanced its safety measures after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, this was an example of how 'Big Oil' would be blamed, even though the immediate culprit was BP and its service contractors.
Mr. Coll has written a highly readable and amazingly detailed account of how ExxonMobil, one of the largest global companies, functions often as an entity unto itself. I recall various instances when the U. S. government accommodated ExxonMobil's interests. I can not recall an occasion when the opposite occurred. I do not conclude from Mr. Coll's account that ExxonMobil is a 'bad' company. In fact, it seems well run and has been highly profitable for decades. Nonetheless, it is a 800 pound gorilla and is perfectly capable of throwing its weight around, whether in Washington or elsewhere.