Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

September 14, 2012

Private Empire Front Cover


By Steve Coll
Penguin Press  685 Pages  $36.00

Steve Coll’s profile of ExxonMobil is a sweeping survey of the global operations of this corporate behemoth, which dominates the landscape at the intersection of energy resources, geopolitics, technology, and finance, earning revenues greater than the GDP of many countries.

Private Empire opens with the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound and closes with rival BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, which flushed nearly 20 times as much oil into the Gulf of Mexico 21 years later.  In between, Coll describes ExxonMobil’s march around the globe, driven and directed by a corporate culture of discipline, accountability, secrecy, and fear.

Coll’s closing statement: “From the day of the Mobil merger closing until the day of the S&P downgrade (of the U.S.), the net cash flow of the United States – receipts minus expenditures – was approximately negative $5.7 trillion.  ExxonMobil’s net cash flow from operations and asset sales during the same period was a positive $493 billion.”

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Basketball Junkie

September 15, 2011

By Chris Herren and Bill Reynolds
St. Martin’s Press, 275 Pages, $24.99

The story of Chris Herren evokes anger and sympathy, sorrow and joy, inspiration and discouragement.  He set high school basketball scoring records in his native Fall River, Massachusetts, earning McDonald’s All-American honors and developing addictions to alcohol and drugs.

“You’ve got the world in the palm of your hands,” his high school coach admonished him, “and you’re doing everything in your power to blow it.”   Indeed.

Following the fall came recovery and redemption.  It is a tough story to read, but ends on a positive note.

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The Real Thing and Other Tales

May 10, 2011

James Baar

The difficulty of navigating a true moral course through a confusing and ambiguous world beset by knaves and rogues is a theme that runs through many of the stories in this excellent new collection. When confronting true evil, embodied in a person or a government, how far can the righteous person go without straying into the garden of evil himself? Businesspeople, advocates, warriors, and priests populate these stories, and every reader is bound to identify with at least one or two of them. Ever been downsized, outplaced, replaced, folded, spindled, or mutilated? Meet Arthur Ballentine, just made the former Executive Vice President of Marketing in “Alchemists of the New Age.” If, like the author and this reviewer, you have worked in public relations, lobbying, or advertising, you will laugh out loud, and then be ashamed you did, at the utter cynicism and manipulation of G. Cameron Lightower, in the same story. Or meet St. Jerome in the Holy Land (“Cleansing the Sepulchre”). This book will entertain and provoke reflection in any sentient reader.

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Novels in Three Lines, by Félix Fénéon

April 9, 2009

Novels in Three Lines, by Félix Fénéon, translated by Luc Sante and published by the New York Review of Books Press. Paperback, cover price $14.

He wrote blog postings before there were blogs, and he tweeted before there was Twitter. Decades before there was an Internet or computers, or even electric typewriters. His name was Félix Fénéon, and he wrote for the Paris daily Le Matin in the early 20th century.

Among other things, he wrote the short news items that, when newspapers were printed with hot-metal type, filled in at the bottom of columns.

The book is endlessly entertaining, if a tad ghoulish, and can be read in snatches of 30 seconds or three minutes, or for hours.

Examples of his tweets:

  • His foot caught in the coupling of two rails, as if in a trap, Gorgeon, of Saint-Dié, struggled. A train cut him in half.
  • Using a series of pseudonyms, a young woman finds employment as a maid, and then leaves, quickly, emburdened. Her take: 25,000 francs. No arrest yet.
  • A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frérotte, who had just come back from Lourdes cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by mistake.
  • M.D., a merchant of Courbevoie, caused the arrest of Dumont, exlover of his wife, who had attempted to sell that imprudent person’s letters.
  • Bitten by his horse, in Joinville, coachman Colignon fainted, whereupon his carriage crushed his legs.
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