Private Empire cover
Private Empire Illustrates a Whole New Side of Oil
May 25, 2012 book review

I have had a very interesting journey with my book review of Private Empire by Steve Coll. I’ve actually had to have 2 different review dates assigned because the reading took so much longer than my normal. You know I don’t review a lot of non-fiction works, and those that I do review are usually cooking or parenting related, so this was a huge step out of my comfort zone. And I loved the challenge – it made me remember that before I had kids I was actually pretty good with the brain-power bit. Private Empire is a well-researched, thoroughly documented look at ExxonMobil from the Exxon Valdez crisis through 2011.

My father reads non-fiction works more than fiction. Actually, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen him holding a fiction book, but I’m sure there must have been one a time or two. I’ve learned from him that not every factual work is correct – especially with history, different historians can interpret events in different ways, have more information available or just use certain references and not others. I’ve always been wary of non-fiction, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll find a book I really can understand only to find out later that it was more fiction than fact. I don’t worry about that with Private Empire – it’s clear from the writing and the bibliography that it was, in fact, well-researched.

Private Empire coverAs I’ve told you before, having a book that references where the information included is found always is a pleasure for me. But I found in Private Empire that there’s one step farther – this book has notes, by chapter, that includes exactly what the author was referring to, where the information was obtained, dates, sources, even which articles and websites were read for a specific section. That’s more in-depth that a bibliography, which follows the Notes section in the book. Having this information, this completeness in the research and documentation, makes me feel confident that the work I’ve read is correct and complete.

One of the most amazing parts of this work is that it is inclusive of the Exxon Valdez crisis which I vaguely remember, through the BP incident of 2010 and an ExxonMobil pipeline leak in 2011. I wasn’t aware of this entire history, though I had heard parts of it. For me, this book connected dots that I didn’t know, humanized and made the oil industry seem more real. This made the crises, spills, and issues seem both more possible and more horrendous at the same time. On one hand, having an insider’s look at the corporate reaction to the historic problems that this company faced made it understandable that human nature and the human condition could have caused an atmosphere where such issues were possible. On the other hand, it made the reactions to the problems seem heartless, calculated, and inadequate in comparison to the extent of the damages done.

Through Private Empire, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about ExxonMobil and the oil industry. I’ve read the good and bad parts, I read the numbers and figures, and I’ve yet to fully process it. I think this is one book that I will need to re-read twice, maybe even thrice, before I’ve fully digested the amazing mass of information that’s included between the covers. There is a wealth of knowledge, research and resources that has been compiled in this work, and it’s definitely not one to take lightly. It’s a serious book on a serious subject, and I think it’s definitely a book that is worth the read. We, as consumers and as Americans, should take more interest in knowing the background of what our consumerism does, and I think this book is a great way to start on that path.

Private Empire on TLC Tours

Private Empire is on tour with TLC Book Tours, check out the reviews from these other tour hosts:

Support my blog when you shop Amazon – my Amazon links include my affiliate ID, so I will receive a percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon after clicking my link!

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher to facilitate my review. My opinions are honest and my own.

  • This sounds interesting, great review! I’m not one to read alot of non-fiction as I prefer my *cough* fantasy books, but this really does sound interesting. 

    • It takes a really strong hook to get me away from the fiction section! Just luckily this one seemed interesting enough from the jacket 🙂 I think it was definitely worth the read, and I kind of felt smarter after I read it…

  • I have to really be interested in the topic to read a book that’s not fiction but I appreciate your review.

    •  @Tracy Roberts I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s dodgy with the nonfiction! Thanks for reading my review! 🙂

  • Sounds like the author was really meticulous! I appreciate that because I’ll often quote things from books I read, and I like my information to be accurate. Thanks for being on the tour! 

    • The notes section is huge! He’s already a well-respected journalist and author, but this was my first introduction to him and it was a great one. It took me a while longer to read than most books, but I feel like I learned quite a bit. Thanks for having me on the tour!

  • KBunn1

    Sounds like it would be an intriguing read. Like you, I read far more fiction than non-fiction, but would be happy to give this book a shot. 

    •  @KBunn1 It’s one of those deeply interesting books – it took me quite a while to read, but I think it was worth the effort! Thanks for reading my review!