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on 13 October 2014
The book provides an excellent insight into one of the world’s leading multinationals (perhaps the leading multinational, depending on how and when measured). Steve Coll’s 624 pages is well put together and well researched - backed up by detailed notes.

Having worked in an advisory capacity with a number of smaller multinationals it is very interesting to see how this big player, ExxonMobil, has gone about its business - across lots of locations. These have included US, Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia and Venezuela.

The period covered sees the company led by Lawrence G. Rawl, Lee R. Raymond and Rex Tillerson. The book works forward from th Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Raymond assumes control from 1993 and Tillerson from 2006. The bulk of the book is focused on Raymond’s reign.

The company is required to operate across a range of challenging environments - wherever there are oil or gas reserves of any significant volume. And there is significant risk for the company and the company’s personnel in operating in a number of these locations. However what is striking is the company’s approach to resourcing its teams in these locations - and backing them up at senior political level (be that in the country itself or at US Government and/or World Bank levels). Indeed the power and influence of the corporation is very clear, as evidenced by its reasonably easy access to Cheney, Bush, Putin etc - not to mention leaders in countries such as Chad, EG, etc.

We also see Raymond’s ascendancy and strong and dominating leadership. Eventually some of this probably backfires in dealing with global warming, Greenpeace and Wall Street. But there plenty of strengths in driving the company forward and managing ongoing difficult situations in multiple global locations.

All in all. a worthwhile read for anyone working in a multinational environment or looking for some insight into the oil and gas industry.
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on 2 August 2012
If you knew nothing about the oil business and international politics - then this might be a starter book for you. Otherwise, forget it. This is a sub-Vanity Fair stylistic compilation of themeless unconnected selected tales and vignettes involving Exxon Mobil and more specifically, chosen handfuls of its personnel. There is, barring passing comment, no serious or lengthy, or most importantly, integrated, analysis of Exxon and what it is about and how it may or may not be shaping global oil.

I say "Vanity Fair", as it is written, as sadly increasingly most such books are these days, in the journo-creates-atmosphere style by conveying "place" and "character" while pretending that the writer was there.

If text such as "It was a grey rainy November day when Jim "the shark" Macaulay got into his regulation Exxon hire car to drive...He was a long term Exxon employee widely held in high regard for his skills at..." appeals to you, then this book is for you. Otherwise - dreadful.

Have you ever noticed how in all these sorts of books ALL the staff introduced are always really really experienced, bright, perceptive, hard working, seem to have extraordinary skills that somehow no-one else has. NOBODY at management level is ever out of their depth, dumb, deceitful, slow, not very capable or bright, unwilling to take responsibility or make a decision, over-promoted, sycophantic or just "average"...

For sure given his reputation the author can get access to the organisation first hand and to senior management; he has conducted various interviews. His funding has allowed him to interview people in different countries. But all that has then happened is that these interviews have been dressed up and strung together. There is little-no serious core to this book nor coherence. Entities such as Exxon are huge multi-dimensional concerns; any attempt to come to terms with them thus requires knowledge and input on multi-dimensional topics and levels. That also takes anyone a long time to do; it is a sustained undertaking. It is a complicated endeavor. If that is not being done - by someone with the qualifiications to do it - what you get, at very best, is the blind man and the elephant parable.

What has been presented here is a quickie knock off book. The "obvious" and old worn out topics - where thus material is easily accessible and already known - Exxon Valdez, peak oil arguments, oil and environment and NGO conflicts, oil and corruption in the 3rd World, are all trotted out. And if that was not bad enough are mostly all then given the fairly superficial treatment.

What of course - and it is deliberate technique - this style of sourcing information through interview projects to the reader, is that somehow the veil is being lifted and you are getting the "insider gen"; the stuff that has never been revealed before and so forth. The ultimate insider track view on some topic or other. Of course none of that is true, per se. Nor invariably in practice. What invariably you get are blandness, inanities and summations of the already known and deducible (even if no Exxon official has ever commented on X or Y before, we can make intelligent guesses as to what their view will be, we don't need implied "expose" face to face talks for that).

Coll's main first book, "Taking Getty Oil", was significantly better than this.

Sadly one can only suspect that what is going on here is that Coll is on autopilot now, living off, and dining out, on the perceived success of "Ghost Wars" and "The Bin Ladens" and has slipped into journo mode where he now writes superficial dross that is underpinned by little serious thought (or objective) and no coherent research.
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on 7 March 2013
I agree wholeheartedly with the previous reviewer. This book might, just might, be appealing to those that know nothing of the oil industry but it is highly unoriginal and highly unrevealing for the rest of us. Is it really possible that one person out there in the big wide world might be surprised to learn that oil companies deal with governments? Besides the fact that states tend to own all the oil and gas reserves, which most voters tend to like, energy is near the top of the agenda for almost every Government on this planet. Don't waste your money on this one.
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on 12 October 2014
A genuinely fascinating book, though not for the reasons expected, as rather than come off as a critique of the corporation it presents it as it is: A very successful business that has to tackle MANY obstacles across its operations from oil spills, to kidnappings, to tantrum-prone dictators. This approach works for the book though as it allows for a variety of stories to be told in a variety of locations with a changing cast of characters.

It does suffer here and there from bogging itself down talking about lobbying groups however and at over 600 pages of small print, a pre-existing interest is pretty much required before reading, if so however it’s an excellent book.
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on 21 November 2012
Balanced books about the oil industry are hard to find. We all know what oil companies are like. They are run by devils with horns who eat children for breakfast. Or maybe not. Maybe they are ordinary guys like you and me just trying to do a tough job in a challenging world. After all, that oil doesn't get into the pump by itself.

When I was a kid we were taught that all the oil was going to run out. We only had 20 years or so of the stuff left, and always did. In 1970 they taught us it would run out in 1990, in 1980 it was 2000, and so on. It's still here, and it seems it will be for many decades to come. Why is that? Well it seems the guys with horns keep discovering new oilfields, and keep developing better technology to extract the stuff that was previously thought unextractable.

We were also taught that the arabs were going to take over the world because they had all the oil. But where does the US import most of its oil from? Canada.

This book is full of fascinating nuggets like these. It makes a pleasant change to read the other side of the story for a change, especially when presented so impartially.
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on 31 October 2013
I am finding this book sort of ok but a bit long. It like the story of the oil company exconn lots of interesting things but lots of pages to get through it. As others have written prehaps if familar with oil industry this is not so great but for me very good interesting. Its just that its written cronological events stories of what happens is a very ineffectient way to get to the meet. Like reading a long story book, i prefare more intense books because i am a slow reader
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on 3 May 2013
The scope of Steve Coll's investigations and the knowledge that went into the making of this book makes it informative as well as enjoyable.
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on 14 August 2013
The book is good although at first it looked like a tedious read it was anything but. Good insight to a world major corporation
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on 10 July 2013
Book was interesting and gave good insight into the oil industry of which i knew nothing. It was easy to read and engrossing.
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on 5 May 2016
bought for neighbour who liked it
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