Private Empire

  • by Steve Coll
  • Narrated by Malcolm Hillgartner
  • 24 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Please no more accents!

Private Empire is an excellent investigation of Exxon's (and more recently Exxon-Mobil's) corporate conduct and policies over the last two decades or so. Coll begins with the Valdez spill and offers more of a series of case studies than any continuous history. At times a more detailed backstory of Exxon's pre-1989 development would help, but on the whole Coll's more journalistic approach is effective and interesting.

My only complaint here is the narration - and really it's the trend represented here more than the specific performance I object to. Malcolm Hillgartner's voice is fine, and he generally reads in a clear, expressive manner. But I appeal to him, and to all audiobook producers, to enact a moratorium on foreign accents, at least in nonfiction works. Unless done extremely well, the use of accents to distinguish quotes from speakers of different nationalities is totally distracting - at best comical, at worst borderline offensive. Listening to Vladimir Putin's words (which were spoken in Russian to begin with!) recited in a Bela Lugosi-like "Russian" accent in no way enhances my listening pleasure. Maybe this kind of dramatization is necessary or desirable in narrating works of fiction (though I'd prefer not), but when it's actual historical figures in a work of journalistic reporting, it's just ridiculous. (Ditto w/male narrator's reading women's words in a semi-falsetto. Yuck!)
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- Zak

Great Fly on the Wall Perspective of ExxonMobil

If you like to feel like an insider, then this book is for you! I really like Steven Coll's pacing, as he was able to get my attention immediately as he starts with the tragedy surrounding the Exxon Valdez and all the characters involved in this historical event. From there he takes you through the ups and downs of this enormous private enterprise, which I found very insightful.

The key to the success of this book is the neutral perspective assumed by Coll, as I hate books that try to portray something that is simply big as also automatically bad. I am a businessman, and this book allowed me some keen insights into the thinking and doings of a major employer, energy producer, and endless source of speculation and controversy.

This book is not going to change your life by any means, but it is a great impartial look behind the curtain of a major global player.

I would highly recommend this book to any students of business or generally to anyone who likes to glimpse the inside.

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- Jimmy "I am a young-executive with a voracious appetite for great stories. I read and listen constantly, and am very proud of my book collection."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-01-2012
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio