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

4.1 out of 5 stars 159 customer reviews

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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

Review

Magisterial ... a revealing history of our time -- Bill McKibben New York Review of Books Meticulously researched and elegantly written, it is likely to be the definitive work on its subject for many years to come. Steve Coll ... is honest about Exxon's strengths as well as its flaws, and presents both sides of the arguments with scrupulous even-handedness ... At every stop there are vivid anecdotes, sharp insights and telling details -- Ed Crooks Financial Times Masterful ... Coll's in-depth reporting, buttressed by his anecdotal prose, make Private Empire a must-read ... [His] 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 San Francisco Chronicle Meticulous, multi-angled and valuable ... Coll's prose sweeps the earth like an Imax camera -- Dwight Garner New York Times A thorough, sobering study of the pernicious consolidation of Big Oil ... jaw-dropping reading Kirkus Reviews --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 (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I think when I purchased this I was expecting a content similar in style to "The Prize" ,which was a fantastic read and I was terribly wrong and had to grind my way through , finally leaving it hugely disappointed. For such a fascinating subject I found the book to be unnecessarily repetitive with the endless comments about "Bookable Reserves" and hints but no real substance to many of the comments about the corporation's relationship to government. Almost every chapter begins with an inticing storyline which somehow manages to peter out as underlying detail is missed or simply implied but never followed up. The section on Exxon Chemicals is too brief and probably superflous to the rest of the book. The exception to the negative comment is to be found in the detail of the post-Mobil acquisition and the contrasting style of the Mobil worldwide operations, would have appreciated much more information and informed comment.

ExxonMobil is undoubtedly a corporation to be admired and vilified but the book fails to really commit the reader instead it rather numbed me.Both Raymond and Tilleson, bearing in mind the scale of the operation they ran and the results ExxonMobil consistently produced, must be larger than life characters but this fails to come across and there is an incredible lack of detail about any of the key subordinates who drove the corporation forward. Maybe they are just "men in suits" managing endless Powerpoint presentations but that is difficult to believe.

Should be read but do not expect any real insight.
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