The London Review of Books  [8 Nov, 2012] reviews Steve Coll’s new, indispensable volume, Private Empire: ExxonMobile and Power.  Coll will be familiar to many readers from his articles and books on US national security matters, particularly the CIA, Osama Bin Laden and oil.  He is also the managing editor of the Washington Post.  His knowledge of the interconnecting worlds of oil, nationalism and power is deep and wide; his discipline to put that knowledge at the service of others is formidable.

From Luke Mitchell’s review:

The pivotal event in the history of ExxonMobil, as Coll sees it, wasn’t the wreck of theExxon Valdez, important though that was, but the fall of the Berlin Wall. ‘The Cold War’s end,’ he writes, ‘signalled a coming era when non-governmental actors – corporations, philanthropies, terrorist cells and media networks – all gained relative power.’ The title of Daniel Yergin’s history of the oil industry, The Prize (1991), came from a similar argument made by Winston Churchill in 1911, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. The best way to prepare for war with Germany, Churchill believed, would be to upgrade the Royal Navy so that it used oil as fuel rather than coal. It would be risky, in large part because ‘the oil supplies of the world were in the hands of vast oil trusts under foreign control.’ But if ‘we overcame the difficulties and surmounted the risks, we should be able to raise the whole power and efficiency of the navy to a definitely higher level; better ships, better crews, higher economies, more intense forms of war power – in a word, mastery itself was the prize of the venture’. As Yergin noted, winning such a prize ‘inevitably meant a collision between the objectives of oil companies and the interests of nation-states.’ This clash is the real subject of Coll’s book. A single nation, the United States, once had the power to break apart the mighty Standard Oil Company. But in the post-Soviet era, ExxonMobil prevailed.

. Much of Private Empirefocuses on war and specific incidents of manmade disaster: the Exxon Valdez, various pipeline spills, Deepwater Horizon, dirty wars in Africa and Indonesia, the wars in Iraq. The largest oil-company related disaster, though, is climate change, which will destroy not just life in the Gulf of Mexico, but life in all of the oceans and on much of the land as well. The smaller disasters happened when the oilmen failed, but climate change is happening because they are successful.

Full review, here…probably behind a pay-wall.

Or from Bill McKibben’s review in the New York Review of Books, go here.

Looks like a fine book.  Send excerpts to your congress critters….

 

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