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Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power – Book Salon Preview

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Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

Chat with Steve Coll about his new book, hosted by Mike Magner.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll goes deep inside ExxonMobil Corp, the largest and most powerful private corporation in the United States

In Private Empire, Steve Coll investigates the notoriously secretive ExxonMobil Corporation, revealing the true extent of its power. ExxonMobil’s annual revenues are larger than the economic activity in the great majority of countries, equivalent to the GDP of Norway. 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 any other corporation. Yet despite its outsized influence, it is a black box.

Private Empire begins with the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989 and closes with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The narrative spans the globe, taking readers to Moscow, 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 action 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 in all its aspects. The larger cast includes Raymond’s successor, Rex Tillerson, who broke with Raymond and tried to reset ExxonMobil’s public image; as well as the countless world leaders, plutocrats, dictators, guerrillas, and corporate scientists who are part of ExxonMobil’s colossal story.

Steve Coll, winner of a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction for Ghost Wars and 1990 Pulitzer for explanatory journalism, is president of New America Foundation, and a contributor at The New Yorker magazine. Previously he spent 20 years as a foreign correspondent and senior editor at The Washington Post, serving as the paper’s managing editor from 1998 to 2004. He is the author of seven books, including The Deal of the Century: The Break Up of AT&T (1986); The Taking of Getty Oil (1987); Eagle on the Street, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the SEC’s battle with Wall Street (with David A. Vise, 1991); On the Grand Trunk Road: A Journey into South Asia (1994); Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004); The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008); and Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power (2012). (Penguin Group)

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