Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Private Empire, ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll, The Penguin Press

This is a four star book, even though I wish the author had followed a central time line in detailing the last twenty + years of Exxon history. Mr. Cole chose to silo the various story lines so that their complexity would be easier to follow, but I think with overlapping time lines we would have gotten an even better feel for the complexity of Exxon's worldwide businesses.

The book opens with Exxon's penultimate disaster, the Exxon Valdez, and closes with BP's Deepwater Horizon, bookending a time frame in history when ExxonMobil make record profits, stonewalled the world on global warming, defined the US Government repeatedly, and exemplified the spirit of the great American corporation.

Mr. Cole, a two time Pulitzer Prize winner, does a masterful job of balancing the many sides of Exxon's business story and the people involved. He presents world wide examples of how the company juggles production area human rights/politicians/environmental concerns, US politicians and activists, and international politicians and activists, all in order to make a very respectful American profit for its stockholders.

You come away from the book with respect for the company but also wondering if the profit motive is always the best motive.

Here is a link to some of the questions the book posed to me.

George W Parker

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