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