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Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth

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In 2010, the words “earthquake swarm” entered the lexicon in Oklahoma. That same year, a trove of Michael Jackson memorabilia—including his iconic crystal-encrusted white glove—was sold at auction for over $1 million to a guy who was, officially, just the lowly forestry minister of the tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea. And in 2014, Ukrainian revolutionaries raided the palace of their ousted president and found a zoo of peacocks, gilded toilets, and a floating restaurant modeled after a Spanish galleon. Unlikely as it might seem, there is a thread connecting these events, and Rachel Maddow follows it to its crooked source: the unimaginably lucrative and equally corrupting oil and gas industry.

With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe, revealing the greed and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas along the way, and drawing a surprising conclusion about why the Russian government hacked the 2016 U.S. election. She deftly shows how Russia’s rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia’s rot into its rivals, its neighbors, the West’s most important alliances, and the United States. Chevron, BP, and a host of other industry players get their star turn, most notably ExxonMobil and the deceptively well-behaved Rex Tillerson. The oil and gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, “like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can’t really blame the lion. It’s in her nature.”

Blowout is a call to contain the lion: to stop subsidizing the wealthiest businesses on earth, to fight for transparency, and to check the influence of the world’s most destructive industry and its enablers. The stakes have never been higher. As Maddow writes, “Democracy either wins this one or disappears.”

405 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 1, 2019

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About the author

Rachel Maddow

12 books1,100 followers
Rachel Maddow is host of the Emmy Award–winning Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, as well as the author of Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, a #1 New York Times bestseller. Maddow received a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Stanford University and earned her doctorate in political science at Oxford University. She lives in New York City and Massachusetts with her partner, artist Susan Mikula.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,969 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
December 26, 2019
I like driving a pickup and heating my house as much as the next person, and the through line between energy and economic growth and development is as clear to me as an electric streetlight piercing the black night. But the political impact of the industry that brings us those things is also worth recognizing as a key ingredient in the global chaos and democratic downturn we’re now living through.
Rachel Maddow is the top news personality at MSNBC, host of The Rachel Maddow Show for the last eleven years. One of the smartest people to be found on your television, or screen of choice, she relies on research, facts, and informed guests to present her viewers with as high-end an hour of political news coverage as you can find anywhere, all while being upbeat, friendly, funny, and warm. Watching her show it might not be totally obvious, because she is so nice, but she is a first class hard-edged, incisive intellectual, a Rhodes scholar with a triumph of a book already to her credit, Drift, on our national tendency to war. One other gift Maddow possesses is a talent for story-telling. Watch her A-block (the opening 20 minute segment of her show) some night, any night, for a taste. In Blowout, Maddow looks at the centrality of oil (by which we mean oil and gas) to our history and to the events of the world today.
Rachel Maddow didn't set out to write a book. But a nagging question led her there: Why did Russia interfere in America's 2016 presidential election, and why attack the United States in such a cunning way? Although the MSNBC host regularly devotes ample airtime to the topic of Russia on The Rachel Maddow Show, her digging led her to a thesis she thought was too long for TV.
- from the NPR interview
Rachel - image from Hooch.net

From her depiction of Vladimir Putin’s visit to NYC to celebrate the opening of the first Lukoil gas station in the USA, to the story of alarming means being used in an early attempt at fracking, from a look at how third-world dictators live large on oil revenues, while their people suffer, from the history of oil to the history of Putin, from the big personalities to the local damage, she takes you right there and walks you through the events like a docent leading a group through the Met, a very slippery, oily Met. Watch that glimmery puddle!

On our right is a family tree that echoes the shape of a gusher, noting the beginning of oil drilling in 1859, see where Rockefeller and Standard Oil gets into the game, and everything spreads out from there until the canvas is almost entirely covered in iridescent black goo.

John D. Rockefeller - image from Curious Historian

This one over here is quite surprising. There is a story to the mushrooms. You think fracking for natural gas is a nasty, brute force extraction method, generating vast collateral damage? You would be right of course, but in the 60s and 70s an even scarier method of loosening up the gas trapped in underground shale and sandstone was tested, three times, Nukes! Yes, that’s right. As a part of Project Plowshare, three Hiroshima-level nuclear bombs were detonated in the continental USA. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, the resulting gas carried a level of radioactivity that was considered unmarketable, so the project was abandoned. Guess it had a very short half-life.

Moving on, look over here. We have an excellent painting that shows how the oil/gas companies control academic research as well as government regulatory agencies. Notice how the energy company board overlaps the board of the local university, the one sponsoring the researcher who is looking into the possible causes for the steroidal increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, an increase that occurred only after the introduction of fracking technology. You might recognize the large claw-like form in the painting, and the academic in that claw being squeezed. Definitely not OK.

On your left you will see a more modern image, a dynamic sculpture, showing the recent story of fracking, very angular, as the straight vertical lines veer suddenly horizontal, but are accompanied by vast volumes of a goo called slickwater being forced into the ground. If you look back up to the top, you will see a geyser of very crude crude being forced up out of the ground. The artist has included, as part of the exhibition, a special platform around the work. Go ahead, step up. That bouncing and rumbling you feel beneath you is meant to mimic the actual experience of residents in heavily fracked locations.

Putin with his parents in 1985, before being sent to Germany as a KGB officer - image from wikimedia

These lovely gilded tryptichs up ahead tell the story of Vladimir Putin, his rise from KGB operative in Germany to possible anti-Christ. Each panel shows a step along his path, growing from unknown KGB agent to mayor of St Petersburg, to the accumulation of a group of loyalists called the siloviki (which would be a great brand name for one of the few products Russia still produces, vodka), to aligning with, then back-stabbing Boris Yeltsin, as the USSR descended from failed social experiment to full on gangster-state kleptocracy. We see in this one to your right how Pootee murders or jails not only political opponents, but anyone foolish enough to own a successful business he wants to steal. Doesn’t the blood red go so dramatically against the gold?
Russia's shaky economy, hampered by a reliance on oil and gas, helps explain the country's weakness, and "some of Russia's weakness explains why they attacked us in the way they did," Maddow argues. She says Vladimir Putin exploited Russia's lucrative oil industry to support his vision of making Russia a superpower again. "When you've got one resource that's pulling in such a big revenue stream, you tend to end up with very rich elites who will do anything to hold onto power who stopped doing the other things that governments should otherwise be doing to serve the needs of the people," she said in an interview with All Things Considered. - from NPR
Aubrey McClendon
- image from Business Insider

In the next room we have a few portraits of energy bigwigs, Aubrey McClendon, a genius at picking land to hold for resource development, promoter of shale and gas drilling in the USA and iconic Oklahoma City booster. Liked to use company money for his personal needs and had issues with price-fixing collusion. Got kicked out of his own company. Robert S. Kerr, founder of Kerr McGee, and a remarkably corrupt politician. Harold Hamm, a self-made billionaire who never saw an environmental regulation he did not hate, or a tax he was willing to accept. The big one at the end of the hall, the screaming T-Rex is, of course Rex Tillerson, still spreading carnage across the planet and not yet trapped in that tar-pit with the “DJT” inscription barely visible on it. As you can see in the painting, the artist was aware that T-Rex hunted in packs. No one is safe when these toothy critters were looking for a meal. The bones you see in the background are the remains of scientists who dared to describe the impact carbon-based energy usage has had on the planet, and residents who opposed the local leader siphoning off all the oil royalties for themselves.

Harold Hamm - image from AP via Politico

Up ahead the mural you see may remind you of Picasso’s Guernica, but this one is called The Resource Curse. It shows how a poor country discovers oil, the pastoral fields being flooded with black, the local leader growing at one end of the mural from a small bully to an inflated grotesque crushing his people alongside an even larger T-rex, the people fleeing and screaming in despair.

Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of the Equatorial Guinea president, living large on the oil revenues siphoned from the country – image, one of many showing his impressive array of insanely expensive vehicles, from Ghafla!

Not all the reporting in the book is horrifying or depressing. Here is one that shows a ring of Russians holding hands, dressed like Americans, living in America. Russian spies, sent here to infiltrate the western enemy, sleeper cells, waiting for the day they would be summoned into action. It was the only part of the book that was laugh-out-loud funny. You’ll see why when you read it.

Ten members of the Russian spy program – the inspiration for the TV series The Americans - maybe you recognize a former neighbor here? – image from ABC.Net.AU

The next room is kept nicely refrigerated. The ice sculpture in the middle of the room shows an oceanic drilling rig, with dark lines standing in for the inability of the rigs to keep from leaking, and the parts scattered on the icy ocean surface standing in for the advanced safety rig elements that were not used in these early drilling attempts.

The Discoverer - grounded in Unalaska, AK, unable to handle Arctic winds – not reassuring – image from Pew Trust

As our tour comes to an end, you can leave those parkas in the bin by the door, and be sure to load up with paper towels from the table ahead. It would appear that the billions invested by the energy business in advancing the technology of extraction has in no way been matched by investment in researching clean-up tech. You hold in your hands the state of the art in oil spill clean-up. Pause briefly to smile.

Before you read Blowout, you should stock up on your blood pressure medication, maybe schedule some extra time for mindfulness, meditation, or whatever works to keep you from completely losing your mind to absolute rage.

Recently a religious friend wondered whether the current president might be the anti-Christ promised in the epistles of John, (and in Islamic lore as well). I suppose Trump would serve as well as any, but on further thought, it seemed to me that, as Trump was very much a puppet of Putin, and thus deserved a demotion, and as Putin was not only running Trump, but has his tentacles around many political and non-political people of importance around the planet, it was Pootee who deserved the title more. On reading Maddow’s book, I am having third thoughts.

If Putin is the source of most of the evil in the world (well, certainly a lot of it, anyway) who or what is it that is moving Putin? As you will see in Blowout, much of the mischief Putin has engaged in regarding the USA elections stems from a desire to remove the sanctions imposed after Pootee hacked off the Crimean piece of Ukraine to be absorbed into the Russian Borg. Limitations on the fluidity of the oligarch funds in the West were problematic, particularly as Pootee was the biggest oligarch of them all. But even worse was the limitation placed on western investment in Russia. On its own, and despite its spectacular glut of natural petro/gas resources, Russia is just this side of a failed state, unable to keep up with advances in technology that are now widespread in the West. Russia NEEEEDS the western investment of contemporary extraction technology to retrieve the resources with which it has been blessed, having placed all his national development chips on oil and gas. It is only the nerve of western leaders like Barack Obama, John Kerry, and Joe Biden, with the bi-partisan support of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and other western nations, that saw to it that sanctions were imposed. This kept Pootee from being able to fully exploit Russia’s carbon-based fuel supplies. Not that he or his minions are gonna starve any time soon, but they cannot come close to realizing their ultimate avaricious or nationalistic fantasies without modern means of sucking every last drop out of the ground. And as energy resources have become a primary usable weapon (really, if he let loose the nukes, Russia, and much of the world, would be in cinders in an hour, so not really a practical weapon for immediate needs) in Russian geopolitics, (along with cyber-crime of diverse sorts) he would like to be as well-armed as possible.

==========In the summer of 2019 GR reduced the allowable review size by 25%, from 20,000 to 15,000 characters. In order to accommodate the text beyond that, I have moved it to the comments section directly below.

Profile Image for Jimmie.
27 reviews4 followers
September 8, 2019
If you’re a regular viewer of her show (or, like me, a regular listener to her podcast) you’re aware that Rachel’s stories come with EXHAUSTIVE background, preambles, and prefatory material. But, if you’re a regular viewer of her show, you know the windup is worth it. This book takes a little while to get off the ground, but eventually it soars.
Profile Image for Sahitya.
1,021 reviews203 followers
March 15, 2021
Update 3/15/21 - Yay Rachel won the Grammy for this audiobook!!! No surprise there coz this audio and her narration is just spectacular 😍😍

I’ve had this book on my TBR since the day it was announced and none of my excitement diminished when I was rejected for the ARC. It only meant I had to wait for the release day and I’m glad I did, because now I got the opportunity to both read the book and listen to the audiobook narrated by Rachel herself, which was an absolutely riveting experience.

If you have read any of my reviews before, particularly the non fiction ones, you know I’m fairly liberal, so it should not come as a surprise that I’m also a fan of Rachel Maddow’s show. And I may have to preface this review by saying that you’ll really enjoy the experience of reading or listening to this book if you like Rachel’s style of narration on her show. She is witty and snarky, but also has this meandering way of storytelling in her show everyday, where you are initially wondering where she’s going with it but ultimately she’ll draw a very full picture for you to understand. And that’s exactly how this book is written.

It’s signature Rachel and I feel that you may not fully appreciate it if you are unfamiliar with her reporting. However meandering the writing may feel, she manages to give excellent historical context to the events that are being explained and the major players who are responsible for them, and even if the timeline is not always linear, I wasn’t really ever confused. The book is also full of information (and I really mean lots of information) and it can feel overwhelming for atleast the first quarter of the book, but once you get the hang of it, you become familiar with what it’s all about and then it unfolds like a very interesting and thrilling story spanning decades. Beginning with the Oil boom in the US in the late 19th century and ending with some conclusions of the Mueller report, this really is the saga of the Oil and Gas industry across the globe (and years) and how it has changed everything.

It’s an undeniable reality that our current way of life depends a lot on the Oil and Gas industry. The use of fossil fuels have changed the way we live, but it has also meant the industry has become a major power player across the world in a way that threatens geopolitical stability but also the daily lives of people living across the US. The events, statements, and consequences that Rachel explains in the book show us an industry that is consumed by its greed for increasing its oil/gas production, it’s lust for money and power at absolutely any cost - as long as their bottom line is served, the rest of the world can go to hell. It is equal parts horrifying and amusing, unbelievable but also kinda obvious, and particularly scary at times because I couldn’t as a reader figure out if there was a way out of all the mess.

And when we are talking about Oil and Gas, it’s impossible to avoid the major power players - the industry giants like ExxonMobil, the oil rich and utterly dependent on it countries like Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea or even similar states in the US like Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota etc. The way the companies permeate every part of the power structure of a country (or state) and then do their business with impunity, while simultaneously not caring at all about the common people’s lives they’ve put at stake is terrifying to read about. Rachel particularly concentrates on the story of Oklahoma, it’s history and it’s dependence on the industry, how the governance of the whole state became essentially a puppet of the fracking industry masters and nothing could be legislated without their approval. It’s also a story of the power of democracy and people and public servants, and their resilience in the face of the brute force attack of money and power from all sides.

And on a larger scale is the story of Russia - how it’s abundance of oil and gas could have propelled it to a global scale on better terms, if not for the infamous Resource curse meeting an authoritarian leader with paranoid tendencies. The story of Putin, ExxonMobil (and Rex Tillerson), the Oil companies and their owners in Russia and the few people who were brave enough to oppose the leader plays out like a gangster thriller, and while I was initially unsure what was the point of it all, by the end I realized that as long as the industry players work hand in hand with dictators and let them interfere in global democracies with impunity, the world is only gonna end up in more chaos.

There are quite a few important figures whom we get to know more about in the book along with their beliefs and methods and motivations, and it was fascinating to see how the common thread across all of them was greed and some kind of narcissism. Whether it is Rex Tillerson; Putin and his right hand, the head of Russia’s biggest oil company Igor Sechin; the eternal President and his son of Equatorial Guinea; Oklahoma’s own business tycoons like Harold Hamm and Aubrey McClendon; one thing they all have is loads of money and power acquired through Oil and Gas, and one thing they all want is the freedom to exploit the nature with impunity and earn boatloads more of money.

But we also get to know some unlikely heroes in the story - someone like Austin Holland, a seismologist working for the Oklahoma Geological Survey who is probably one of the key persons responsible for bringing the damage done by fracking to light; journalists like Ken Silverstein and Peter Maass who brought forth the atrocities of the leader of Equatorial Guinea and his son’s profligate tendencies; and also someone like Boris Nemtsov, who had the gall to make public the extent of Putin’s corruption and had to pay with his life. There are many more, and the “Sources” section of the book is full of information about them and their work.

I probably have a lot more to say but I I’ll conclude my review by saying that it’s an important book which talks about one of the most influential industries of our times, and I highly recommend it. Rachel is neutral for the most part, giving us all the information so that we can form our own opinions, but her sarcasm does come out at times which I enjoyed. I also think the best way to enjoy this book is reading while simultaneously listening to the audio, because her narration brings a lot of life to what can feel like a very long story. I had fun listening to it, I also felt shocked and terrified and hopeless. But Rachel ends with a slightly hopeful note, remarking that it’s always possible to course correct but we (which includes people and government) need to have the courage and conviction to standup for democratic principles and the importance of transparency.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,228 reviews527 followers
November 2, 2019
Well, this has been quite a reading experience: a sequence of “aha” and “I remember that” moments followed by my absorbing the deeper meaning behind a news story or legislative moment that occurred sometime within the past several years. As a news junkie since childhood, I knew something about most of the subjects that Maddow covers in her over-arching view of the oil industry at work throughout the world. Even my most pessimistic self would not have imagined the inner workings of the U.S. components of this business.

This is my first time reading a book by Rachel Maddow who I have enjoyed watching on television. She presents her information in a conversational tone. The facts are backed up with quotations, statistics, etc, which are more fully delineated in the Sources section provided at the end of the book.

And there are so many outrageous events detailed in Blowout. From very basic concepts such as why does an industry that has historically had some of, if not the highest profits in United States history still receive annual tax breaks they were initially given as incentives to explore? And what about the huge increase in earthquakes that seemed to in the area of fracking? And what about the relationship between Exxon and Russia/Putin? These are just three areas dealt with in depth.

There are also very strong links to Ukraine here, ones that I don’t recall hearing discussed on any talk shows yet. More reasons why Putin would want to destabilize that country.

All in all, I think this is is a must read for anyone confused, worried, otherwise wondering what is happening in this world around us where there seemed to be some rules in the past and now it’s a free-for-all. So, highly recommended. It is a very readable source on the oil industry, the new Russia, the state of our democracy, and our potential future.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Carol.
348 reviews323 followers
February 2, 2020
I love Rachel Maddow and I think that she is brilliant. This non-fiction was my book group choice yesterday. It made for an interesting discussion. Most of the group are fans of the author...probably why this is my book group of choice.😊
Profile Image for Jean.
1,701 reviews736 followers
December 9, 2019
I recently read Maddow’s first book entitled “Drift” about the military-industrial complex. I felt that reading that book first helped me understand her method of presenting complicated data.

The book is well-written and meticulously researched. I am impressed at how thorough Maddow is with her research and analysis. She apparently was attempting to understand why Russia meddled in our 2016 election and ended up completing an academic research and analysis of the oil and gas industry. Maddow also provided detailed information about Vladimir Putin as well as a mini biography of Rex Tillerson. The author does an excellent job revealing historical texture to the current oil and gas industry. She also provides one of the best descriptions of fracking I have come across. When considering the earthquakes and the risks of contaminating water and soil with very toxic chemicals; why would anyone allow fracking is something I do not understand. I learned a lot about the Russians, the petroleum industry and fracking. Maddow does an excellent job putting complex data into easy to understand information.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is fifteen hours and thirty-three minutes. I particularly enjoyed listening to Maddow narrate the book.
Profile Image for John Hatley.
1,166 reviews190 followers
November 1, 2019
This amazing and brilliant book gets five stars from me. I'm not normally known for reading non-fiction--especially current events usually make me furious--but I can highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in returning a minimum of democracy to democratic governments and breaking the strangle-hold of big industry, not just the oil and gas industry, on governments east and west. Very well researched and, as one might expect from Rachel Maddow, she manages also to spice the book with humour, black-humour to be sure, but funny nevertheless.
Read it!
Profile Image for Bill.
198 reviews43 followers
March 28, 2020
You don't see the forest for the trees until the end of this book. In chapter after chapter, Rhodes Scholar and MSNBC political talk show host Rachel Maddow focuses the reader's attention on a wide range of loosely-related, but highly-detailed, stories told in long form journalism style. By the end, a broader pattern emerges and it becomes clearer that Blowout is about the three subjects listed in its subtitle:

1) The Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth

Maddow makes the case that the global oil and gas industry has been more obsessed with profit than any other industry due to the sheer magnitude of profits available, ever since John D. Rockefeller launched it in the mid-nineteenth century. She describes vast destruction to the environment caused by oil and gas extraction, due to frequent leaks and other failures, but also due to best practices, as, for example, the Oklahoma earthquake swarms triggered by injection wells as a part of the fracking process. Although she aims her signature snark at the titans and shills of the giant corporations in the oil and gas business, she doesn't really blame them for being what they are.
What is the point of outrage at oil and gas producers? What good can possibly come of it? It's like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can't really blame the lion.
2) Rogue State Russia

She does blame Putin for not managing Russia's enormous oil and gas reserves to improve the welfare of its people on the way to restoring it eventually to superpower status as a rival to the U.S. Instead,
Putin opted for a shorter and easier path, which solved two problems: it gave him permanent job security, and it saved Russia the pain in the butt of actually building itself a modern twenty-first-century economy and government. Putin's most fateful decision for his country was that oil and gas wouldn't just be the profitable crown jewel in Russia's diversified economic array; it would be Russia's everything. And Putin would exercise almost complete control over it and use it in whatever way he saw fit.
3) Corrupted Democracy

Putin's ambitions to make Russia great again, by utilizing ExxonMobil's technology and expertise to tap into its massive Arctic oil and gas reserves, were thwarted by U.S.-brokered sanctions against Russia and its oil and gas oligarchs, following Putin's invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014, also an oil play. Faced with this obstacle, Maddow argues that Putin fell back on hacking as a geopolitical strategy.
It's cheap. It's doable, and it doesn't require making anybody think better of Russia. The agents of the Kremlin just have to tell the lies often enough and loud enough to sow doubt and dissension, to prove that leaders and governments and institutions in the United States are just as crappy as Russia's.
Blowout is stronger on defining problems than proposing solutions. Maddow finds hope in a successful 2018 campaign by Oklahoma teachers, which overcame generations of oil and gas industry control of the state legislature and resulted in the required 75% majorities in both houses for incremental increases in energy production taxes, allowing the state to begin to address chronic underfunding of schools, which had resulted in it dropping to 49th in per student spending among all states.

In the end, Maddow calls on activists, journalists, and voters "to preserve and protect our democracies from the influence of the industry, and from the rogue-state, anti-democracy behemoth it has fueled in Russia," because "Democracy either wins this one or disappears. It oughtta be a blowout."

As informative as the book is, I don't think it likely that it will change a lot of minds. Those who agree with Maddow will like it and those who don't probably won't.

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth
Profile Image for Dan.
1,077 reviews52 followers
January 14, 2020
Blowout by Rachel Maddow

Oil and its corruption have had a massive impact on our world to be sure. Maddow attempts to tell us this using many current examples and is mostly successful in her effort.

First the positive.

1. Maddow, a Rhodes Scholar, has a nose for what is important. I feel that all of the oil related threads covered in this book are of importance and, individually, are interesting.

2. Although she uses a few too many idioms at times, her sentence structure and thought processes are easy to follow.

3. Maddow may be more knowledgeable about political impacts of big oil than just about anybody. She has spent countless hours on her talk show discussing the topic and interviewing knowledgeable people.

4. The Rex Tillerson coverage and Maddow’s repeated digs toward him were far and away my favorite part of the book. How can a Boy Scout, like Tillerson, grow up to betray America’s interests? And according to Maddow’s reporting in this book he goes to great lengths to do so.

Then the negative.

1. The topic as presented is unwieldy.

2. There was not enough time spent writing, researching or editing the book. It is more of a current events book in a way. Ten years from now, I don’t think the book will be of much interest or have much historical value.

3. The major and minor threads, while interesting, had little in common beyond oil. The Oklahoma natural gas thread with OKC Thunder owner McClendon and his suicide had no intersection with Rex Tillerson, Vladimir Putin, Gucifer 2.0 or oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Mikey B..
974 reviews357 followers
January 20, 2020
This is a scathing work on the petroleum industry – oil and the newly expanding natural gas industries. It's all lucidly outlined – focusing on the state of Oklahoma for natural gas and the Russia/ExxonMobil/Roy Tillerson alliance.

Before I go on, let me say that like many others, I am a consumer of these products, being very happy to heat my home these January days with natural gas – and of course use high-grade oil on those air flights I take when traveling.

The author, Rachel Maddow, exposes how ExxonMobil is an entity onto itself – and how it circumvented the sanctions of the Obama era on Russia. Also, the Trump administration withdrew section 1504 in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform which was “designed to induce financial transparency for the oil and gas industry operations in developing countries” (page 352) much to the delight of ExxonMobil.

Page 353 (my book)

How does the GDP of a country rise by more than 5,000 percent but the poverty rate doesn’t drop and the infant mortality rate actually gets worse in that time [Equatorial Guinea].

Page 353 late Republican Senator Richard Lugar

“When oil revenue in a producing country can be easily tracked, that nation’s elite are more likely to use revenues for the vital needs of its citizens and less likely to squander newfound wealth for self-aggrandizing projects.” Corrupt governments “exacerbate global poverty which can be a seedbed for terrorism, it dulls the effect of our foreign assistance, it empowers autocrats and dictators, and it can crimp the world petroleum supplies by breeding instability.”

Rachel Maddow’s main theory is that the petroleum industry thinks only about itself. They don’t care about the environment, for example they have only paper documentation to clean-up an oil spill (think Gulf of Mexico), but not the actual means to do it. When they leave a site, they don’t bother to do a proper clean up. They have been trying to deny climate change for years.

The author brings up the state of Oklahoma where the natural gas industry was being taxed only minimally, but schools were severely underfunded. When earthquakes, due to fracking, were occurring more frequently than in California the petroleum companies, even those homegrown in Oklahoma, were denying responsibility. These companies had close ties to the state government, until at some point the citizens had had enough.

Page 252

The Great Shale Boom (along with those ancient and helpful tax breaks) was good for about sixty thousand “direct, indirect and induced jobs.” That last kind must have been like “inducing” somebody to grill enough hamburgers at the new McDonald’s to feed the itinerant petroleum engineers and drilling crews…Or to repair the state highways and country roads torn up by the heavy drilling machinery necessary to grow oil production in the state…Or to dispose of the environmentally hazardous “filter socks”… stuffed with… naturally occurring radioactive material that frackers had illegally strewn around roadside gullies.

Rachel Maddow provides us details how Vladimir Putin’s petroleum industry has become corrupt – the mafia ousted Yukos (Mikhail Khordorkovsky) and merged it with Rosneft, now under Putin’s control. There was a lot of Russia bashing in this book – and I suppose much of it justified. However, I felt that Ukraine was painted too much with a rosy brush, when in fact it too is highly corrupted; its very low on transparency indexes and not so good with human rights.

Also I could not help comparing Russia to another petro-state namely Saudi Arabia (and other Arab states as well) which is supported by the United States – that is a rigid theocratic dictatorship where women have less rights than in Russia, where there is no freedom of religion and which is fighting a war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is hardly mentioned in this book. I became irritated when the author mentioned on page 242 that American soldiers were dying for a democratic Iraq. This is pure hyperbole! They went there initially for two BIG lies – weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s purported support for Al Qaeda – both total nonsense. They also went there for oil.

Regardless, a lot of light is shed on petroleum states and the companies that invest in them. And these companies prefer to deal with dictatorships where there is one-stop shopping, much less regulation, and more secrecy. They worry much less about the environment and pesky inquiries from members of the government.

It’s a frightening exposé on our oil and natural gas addiction that is bringing our planet to the brink of disaster.
Profile Image for Dorie.
684 reviews
August 26, 2019
Blowout! :Corrupted Democracy, Rouge State Russia, and The Richest, Most Destructuve Industry on Earth
by Rachel Maddow
due 10-1-2019

#netgalley. #Blowout

What the Frack is going on with the oil and gas industry? How did we, as a Democratic country, get to this point? Regardless of age, sex, race, religion, political beliefs, etc., how did we become dependent on a global industry built on corruption, greed and incompetence?
Rachel Maddow brings it all together and makes this complicated issue, easy to understand. She explains the power, complexities, and political gamesmanship behind fracking. How Yeltsin literally gave the Russisn Presidency to Putin, and how and why Putin used the oil industry to maintain his power, by sending the crude oil to its biggest oil rival, the USA.
From Oklahoma City to Russia to Siberia and Equatorial Guinea, we see how oil and the crude pollutants from fracking, made by unsafe drilling; an industry that has taken far more from the earth than it ever gave. ExxonMobil and Rex Tillerson are examples of the mindless incompetence that make full transparency necessary. We hold the responsibility of separating the corporate from the villains.

Aubrey's Chesapeake Energy-Oklahomas earthquake outbreak of 2010 due to fracking-the Alaskan drilling fiasco- the Winter Olympics at Sochi in 2014 and Pussy Riot- Guccifer. It's all here, and so essential to understanding exactly what is happening, and why.

One of the things I admire and live about Rachel Maddow is how she will lay a foundation by sharing the history and importance of issues, policies and subjects. By explaining both sides, we can decide for ourselves where we stand without being preached at and told what to believe. Her wit, candor, humility and her original spin, for me, make her a woman who uses her intelligence to make people aware, for the greater good. This book is an example of just that.
I learned so much about the oil industry, the consequences of non transparency and the willingness to deceive to win.
Mostly I learned we need to re-think the need vs. the greed of oil.
Thank you for this exceptional, necessary and timely book, Rachel.

Thank you to netgalley for sharing this requested e-book ARC for review.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,403 reviews316 followers
October 2, 2019
I thought I should read Blowout by Rachel Maddow. Should being the giveaway word to my motivation. Instead of a dose of medicine that's good for me but hard to swallow, it was a terrifying funhouse ride that totally engaged my attention! Maddow weaves together a narrative of how we 'got to here' that illumines the present.

Maddow lays out the oil industry's history from Standard Oil to fracking to Putin's dream of Russia becoming the world's fuel provider to trolls on Facebook disseminating discord.

The oil industry has always been too big and wealthy and powerful to control, starting with John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil which drove out or took over the competition. The values have not changed; anything goes in the pursuit of increased production and mindboggling wealth. And power. Don't forget the obscene power.

The oil industry has always looked for better ways to get to the oil, using nuclear bombs and ocean drilling and fracking. Sure, messes happen. The best clean up tool they have developed is a big stick of paper towels.

Fracking was going to save the day! Years worth of 'clean' gas. So what if Oklahoma suffered 900 earthquakes in 2017?

I didn't know how Putin had gambled everything on the fossil fuel industry bringing Russia money and power across the globe. But they needed the technology to make it happen. And Rex Tillerson and Exxon/Mobile were planning to help him. Those pesky sanctions got in their way.

Business and capitalism is amoral; politics and justice and fairness are irrelevant. The prime directive is making money. You lobby for the best tax deals, pay workers the lowest wages possible, make deals with the Devil--if you are killing people, or the entire planet, cover it up and carry on making the big bucks.

The damage fossil fuels are doing to the planet is happening NOW, has been happening for a long time before we wised up to it. It isn't just when we take a jet or when we eat a half-pound burger or drive the kids to school. Getting that gas out of the ground it escapes. Lots of it. From the get-go, fossil fuels damage our world.

Maddow writes, Coal is done, and so is gas and oil but they don't know it yet.

Oh, the last desperate gasps of the old world struggling to hold on.

I was given a free ebook by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,521 followers
April 8, 2020
This is a marvelous book about the oil and gas industries. It is mostly about companies in the United States, but there are significant diversions into a couple of other countries, including Russia. While I believe that Donald Trump is thoroughly corrupt, he really plays second fiddle to Vladimir Putin, who is brazenly corrupt an order of magnitude worse. That's really saying something!

It is well known that large oil and gas reserves help to keep some countries in the dark ages. Rich despotic leaders squash any attempts to promote democracy. But the truth is, these despots are assisted by big oil companies. They seem to use the logic that "if we don't make a deal with this despot, some other company will do it." So, big oil companies race into countries, and pad the pockets of these despots, who in turn do nothing to help the living standards of their populations.

I did not read this book--I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, Rachel Maddow. She reads her book exactly how she talks on television, in a folksy, dry-humor, sarcastic tone throughout. And, she sings! Yes, she reads her book just as if she were sitting next to you. It's wonderful!

Profile Image for Monica.
582 reviews611 followers
June 12, 2020
Thorough, interesting and excellent. Rachel Maddow doesn't know how to be anything but excellent. rtc

4.5 Stars

Listened to the audio book. Rachel Maddow narrated her own book which in my view elevates it!
Profile Image for Suanne Laqueur.
Author 23 books1,489 followers
October 9, 2019
One million stars. I listened to the audible version and it was like Rachel telling me secrets. Especially the sections about Harold Hamm's divorce case. Hamm's wife's name is Sue Ann. And so I got to hear Rachel say my name over and over and over and... Sorry, where was I?

Besides her bottomless well of knowledge, impeccable explanations, dry wit and incomparable expertise in weaving all the parts together, you get to hear Rachel curse (which I wish she would do on air, but I'm weird like that.)

Fascinating. Horrifying. Sobering. But not without hope. Rachel swears she'll never write another book. I call bullshit. :-)
Profile Image for Barbara (The Bibliophage).
1,084 reviews149 followers
October 12, 2019
When I finished Blowout by Rachel Maddow, I had to wash all the residual oil slick off my skin. The book is just that immersive in the oil industry. Not to mention a different kind of Kremlin-based, Putin-esque oiliness. Wow, this book contains nothing less than a gusher of information.

Blowout is sub-titled Corrupt Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. I started it hoping to better understand the messy state of 2019 politics. I got that, and then some. As Maddow has been saying on her show, the timing of this book’s publication is uncanny. There’s plenty about Ukraine and its fractured relationship with Putin in Blowout.

But its deep background starts with the origins of the oil industry and moves into detailed biographies of many industry power players. Maddow discusses Oklahoma, OKC, earthquakes, the 1995 bombing, and the titans who make or break its economy. If she does a deep dive here, she goes even further into the background of Russia’s oil industry and its oligarchs (AKA gangsters). Most importantly, she explains what it means to have only one viable global industry in a kleptocracy.

Since November 2016, reading about the politics of the current Russian state seems critically important. So far, this is the first book explaining the industry that strongly ties our two countries together, for better or worse. In one country, the government owns the oil and gas industry. And in the other, the oil and gas industry influences the government to its benefit. And if you don’t know which country is which now, Blowout makes it crystal clear.

My conclusions
Despite Maddow’s use of fact after researched fact, Blowout retains the tongue-in-cheek chattiness of her television show. Yes, definitely expect snarky asides or exclamations. The straight-up scholarly information is balanced by how she breaks down a complex situation into something easy to digest. That is, if you don’t mind your hydraulic fracking with a substantial side order of corruption.

Because of her unique writing style, I zipped through this nonfiction tome. Okay, having a nasty cold helped—I took a few days off and read a lot. But don’t be concerned it’s dry. It’s not. Maddow uses a narrative, almost novelistic, approach to this true-life story. It’s extremely readable. Or change it up, and switch to the excellent author-narrated audiobook. I did both, but ultimately found that highlighting passages was more important than hearing Maddow’s familiar vocal intonations.

Impressing all my friends and family with facts and history I learned in Blowout sounds fun. Right before I buy them their own copy for the holidays. It’s an important topic that is likely to be timely for some years to come. Please give it a go.

Thanks to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read a digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.

Pair with A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West or Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.

Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com.
Profile Image for Elise Musicant.
41 reviews
October 1, 2019
This book was very interesting, but the problem I had through it all was that I couldn’t figure out what it was about. Was it about corruption in the oil industry? How Russia devolved into the country it is today? How oil affects politics? There were a lot of interesting threads in this book, and they all tied together, but it felt like the writer was trying to tell too many stories.

I could tell this book was well researched. It was dense, however, with very long paragraphs. I found I had to read very carefully, because with long paragraphs, it is easy to miss a small detail in all those words.

In addition, this writer inserts her own opinions into the book. When the facts are laid out for us is a specific way, adding a snarky “Riiiiight” isn’t necessary, and it detracts from the writer’s credibility.

Overall, interesting, but I would have liked to see this book have a clearer path.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,898 followers
December 4, 2019
It's true confession time. The one and only reason I wanted to read this book was because I adore Rachel Maddow. She's smart and funny and a meticulous researcher and a superb writer. I tried and tried with this book, both in print and on audio, where I got to listen to Rachel's dulcet tones reading her own work. Sadly, no amount of Maddow love can overcome my non-existent interest in the oil industry. Sigh.
Profile Image for Hsinju Chen.
Author 2 books188 followers
January 7, 2021
Content warnings: gaslighting, death, gore, suicide, murder, neo-Nazis, anti-semitism, homophobia, racism, anti-immigration, gun, coup, mention of war, mention of torture

Short Review

If the oil and gas industry or Russian internet trolls are of interest, Blowout is a great, well-researched nonfiction with very clear arguments. Due to the immense information, reading on paper or an e-reader at the same time might have worked better for me. Despite being a little bit overwhelmed by all the names and companies throughout most of the book, there is no way I wouldn’t choose the audiobook version again. Hearing Maddow’s snark and brief singing lightened my mood during this heavy read.


What a time to finish this book.

In May 2020, I was spending several hours a week soldering, and I started listening to Blowout while doing so. It was very good but also intensely packed with historical facts and names and companies that I had a little trouble following. I didn’t pick it up again until months later, and by then, the first two-thirds of the book were already foggy to me.

But that was when things started to really make sense, even though I couldn’t remember who is who. The main structure of the book was linking the oil and gas industry to Russian power, and the affect of Putin’s internet trolls on the US politics. I didn’t actually have much idea about what this book would be about when I got it on audio; I thought listening to a nonfiction written and narrated by Rachel Maddow would be fun. And it was, apart from the terrifying theme of governments and companies gaslighting people.

To be honest, what really got my attention during the listen as a STEM graduate student was the part where hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection induced seismic activities and how the scientific community wasn’t a politically neutral ground because of companies in power. It is both fascinating and terrifying.

Blowout is cautionary and ugly with entertaining writing and performance. I hope to get the most out of the book by revisiting it very soon.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
November 18, 2019

The dedication...

Blowout book tour dates and locations announced!: Rachel Maddow alerts viewers that book tour dates in connection with her forthcoming book, "Blowout," have officially been announced, with tickets available through links at MSNBC.com/BlowoutTour.

Coming October 2019: Blowout
Description: Big Oil and Gas Versus Democracy—Winner Take All: Rachel Maddow’s Blowout offers a dark, serpentine, riveting tour of the unimaginably lucrative and corrupt oil-and-gas industry. With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe—from Oklahoma City to Siberia to Equatorial Guinea—exposing the greed and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas. She shows how Russia’s rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia’s rot into its rivals, its neighbors, the United States, and the West’s most important alliances. Chevron, BP, and a host of other industry players get their star turn, but ExxonMobil and the deceptively well-behaved Rex Tillerson emerge as two of the past century’s most consequential corporate villains. The oil-and-gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, “like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can’t really blame the lion. It’s in her nature.”

This book is a clarion call to contain the lion: to stop subsidizing the wealthiest industry on earth, to fight for transparency, and to check the influence of predatory oil executives and their enablers. The stakes have never been higher. As Maddow writes, “Democracy either wins this one or disappears.”

18th Nov 2019: Greenpeace: The more people hear about Big Oil’s efforts to conceal life-saving science on global temperature rise from the public, the more they view them as responsible for the ClimateEmergency.
Profile Image for Beth.
616 reviews24 followers
October 15, 2019
There are few people that can take a complicated subject, woven through with various *other* subjects seemingly at random, and make them ALL make sense. Rachel Maddow is one of those few. I bought this as soon as we got a copy in the store, and finished it last night. What I read made my head spin - not from confusion, but from frustration and anger at seeing just one more way that the oil and gas industry have ruined so much of the global world. Now, don't get me wrong - they have been necessary in many ways. But their push for profits over people, no matter the cost, is infuriating. I talked to a customer the other day who grew up in Oklahoma and knows first hand what Rachel speaks of in the book - and she got plainly irritated just speaking over the damage done in that state. Seeing so many names that I would not have recognized before, but now know from the current administration, just added fuel to the fire.

All is not lost, though. Rachel makes a helluva case, but she also uses Oklahoma as an example of what "we the people" can do when we've finally decided we've had enough. I'm truly hoping that the more people who read this book, the more we will have that will step up and say NO MORE.
Profile Image for Donald Powell.
559 reviews34 followers
January 26, 2020
A comprehensive view of the oil and gas industry and its impositions on life in the modern world. Ms. Madow is very intelligent, studious and has a conversational voice which is easy and interesting to read, even with a lot of numbers and dates. She loves sarcasm and that, at times, provokes more bitterness but she uses it like an explanation point where there is an arguable basis for it. This is essential reading for anyone involved in or interested with modern life's dependence upon energy (all of us). I have believed for years the profits from oil and gas and the defects in our economies for raising capital for changing infrastructure are large impediments to improving our existence. Asphalt and concrete (streets and roads) are subject to this same problem though not really on many folks' radar.
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,833 reviews411 followers
March 17, 2023
The title of the book pretty much says it all. Unregulated market forces rarely operate for the public good, and the oil industry is no different. There are plenty of examples in this book of how it has undermined democracy in the world and done harm. This book is also fascinating in terms of helping to understand how we came to today's situation of full-out war in Ukraine, so don't put it aside because it wasn't written after February 24, 2022. It shows full well how the situation developed in this direction.
Profile Image for Susan Stuber.
192 reviews105 followers
October 25, 2019
No wonder this book almost killed you, Rachel. How you were able to do the research for this book, much less put it together with such brilliance in your regular causticly humorous style, and at the same time manage to carry on with your regular TV program, is beyond me.

But let this one citizen and faithful follower thank you. Who knows, as this present crisis careens towards a hairpin curve, if your book will make any difference in the end. Who will come unscathed out of the wreckage? For there is no doubt there will be wreckage. Already the wheels are coming off and the brakes are gone. The question is, will there be anything left to be salvaged.

Certainly those who will save American democracy as we know it, if it makes it around the curve, will be the many people who have been maintaining it these past years, but also investigative reporters and anchors like you, Rachel Maddow. You are called “the nation’s explainer” for good reason. The behavior, words, negotiations, deals, un-doings, mis-doings, lies, facts, laws, crimes, characters, countries and governments involved are a confusing mess that makes one’s head spin; and yet you always manage to make sense of it all, and never in a heavy-handed manner.

So yes, anyone who wants to understand how the gas & oil industry has shaped (and warped) Russia, the U.S. and other countries, and why Trump wants to get sanctions lifted on Russia, should absolutely read this book.
Profile Image for Claudia.
2,420 reviews84 followers
November 11, 2019
OK -- yes, I am a Maddow fan. I love her snark, but am in awe of her research capabilities, and the ability to connect stories that seem to be unrelated into a whole. That's what I got here...and I read the audible, so she READ IT TO ME.

The GR preview calls the book 'switchbacks', and that's just what it is...she begins one story, seemingly leaves it to pick up another, related, story, and then, BAM! brings both threads together.

Oil and gas dominate my state of Oklahoma, so her chapters about the industry, its two titans, and the teacher walk-out resonated especially for me. Aubrey McClendon is our tragic hero...with hubris as his fatal flaw. He never lacked in confidence and his trust in his own canny instincts. He was much beloved in this state. I've been to a meeting at his campus complex, and it's an amazing place. He changed the landscape of OKC, and he contributed much to the community...not the least of which is the Thunder. Still playing in McClendon's Chesapeake Arena. Then, there's the villain of the piece, Harold Hamm. A self-made man who used his powers to enrich himself and create a kingdom. I've seen him at the Capitol, wielding his might with legislators. Then there's the young idealist, Austin Holland, the seismologist at OU, who saw the rise of earthquakes in OK as alarming, and worked very hard to NOT jump to conclusions about the causes, but finally came out publicly saying they were probably caused by the fracking done by both oil and gas to extract even more product. Hamm made OU President a member of his board, and donated B-I-G money in an effort to squash Holland and his research. Can't have the truth come out, now. Can we?

BUT the really Machiavellian villain here is Vladimir Putin, the local secret police thug who rose to power by blackmailing, bullying, and assassinating folks in his way. His trusty henchman was given power over the vast oil industry in Russia, and other lucrative deals were given to Putin's judo coaches. NONE of them had any true knowledge of the industry, so they courted Big Oil. Enter, stage right, Rex Tillerson, head of ExxonMobile. Deals were made, hands were shook, and Putin became richer. And more ruthless, if that's possible.

Maddow makes the point that leaders in countries (and states..**cough cough** Oklahoma) who rely solely on O&G do not share the bounty with their citizens. Russian leaders are filthy rich...Russian citizens suffer. Equitorial Guinea's president and his feckless son are filthy rich. Their citizens are not. Money does not trickle down to the people who live in squalor. Enter, stage left, Oklahoma again. Maddow touches on the teacher walkout here, and the legislative efforts to finally raise taxes...including some for O&G...despite the statute that requires a 3/4 vote of BOTH houses to raise any taxes. The industry, despite Hamm's 'ham-handed' (sorry-not sorry. Maddow brings out snark in us all) efforts to keep HIS taxes low, despite the dire needs of our public schools. The legislature prevailed. Kinda.

Maddow even includes Russia's invasion of Ukraine at length, and some of Putin's motivations...makes today's news sharper for sure.

I believe, despite her politics (but Maddow does describe herself as an "Eisenhower Republican"), Maddow has presented a clear, fairly unbiased picture of the global risks and dangers of this industry, and frankly of its un-sustainability as an energy source, or as an industry. It's tainted.

"Coal is done and so is gas and oil, but they don't know it yet."
"Democracy either wins this one or disappears."

NOW my mission is to get someone who understands the industry to read the book and fact check it. I have a legislator in mind I'm gonna ask.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,319 reviews1,612 followers
March 30, 2021
I have had Rachel Maddow's first book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, for about 5 years, unread. (I don't know why I haven't gotten to it yet - ask the other 400+ unread books I own why I haven't gotten to THEM yet either. Sometimes things are just a mystery, OKAY?)

Anyway, when I saw this book at the library, I knew I had to read it. I like Rachel Maddow. Not just because I'm a bi, bleeding heart, leftist, progressive, anti-racist, feminist person... but because I love a good story, and Rachel Maddow can tell a fucking story. I don't actually watch her show regularly, or listen to her podcast, though I should do both. I catch her clips sometimes on the Youtubes, and I don't know how she finds the time to do the amount of digging and research she does to connect all of the dots and draw the picture and tell the story, but she does, and I think she does it without fear-mongering or sensationalization. She just tells the story.

And man, does she tell it here. I think that, if you're a regular watcher of her show, or probably a regular listener to her podcast, much of what is contained in this book wouldn't be news to you. I've seen much of this stuff, particularly the Russian aspects, just from my sporadic viewing habits. But this, having her painstakingly researched points presented and laid out piece by piece, and then stepping back at the end to see the full picture, it was just breathtaking in its scope.

One of the "questions" on this book's GR book page from a mama's basement neckbeard bro implies that Maddow is wrong about the destructiveness of the oil and gas industry, because "Chernobyl". But I think Chad isn't bright enough to comprehend that there are many types of destruction. Yes, Chernobyl go boom. Good boy. Have a seat now, and be quiet while the grownups talk, because THIS book, even without pictures or popups, shows clear as day how the oil and gas industry has been destroying everything it touches: the environment, the economy, foreign governments, creating despot dictator billionaires profiteering off of their ruthlessness and exploitation of a resource that isn't theirs, thereby ruining their economies, and killing their people. It's corrupted OUR government, destroyed people's faith in it, and that's not even counting the destruction of the oceans, wildlife, and people's lives simply to make a profit... And all of this has been going on for around a century - unchecked, and unregulated because money talks, and not much else does. And they want it that way, to be able to continue unchecked and unregulated until there's nothing left.

I live in a region of Northeast PA where fracking is rampant. I live far too close for comfort to areas that, just a few years ago, reported people being able to SET THE WATER RUNNING FROM THEIR FAUCETS ON FIRE. If you google that, you'll find just as many "debunked" articles as those reporting it. I mean, there's this one, which doesn't seem biased or flawed at all - just ask the 'experts' who definitely never worked for or had any ties to Chesapeake Energy, the company doing the fracking, and definitely didn't just write the report that Chesapeake wanted based on data that Chesapeake themselves provided and paid for. OH WAIT...
"The result also calls into question prominent studies in 2011 and 2013 that did find a correlation in a nearby part of Pennsylvania. There, wells closer to fracking sites had higher levels of methane. Those studies, however, were based on just 60 and 141 domestic well samples, respectively.

“I would argue that [more than] 10,000 data points really tell a better story,” says hydrogeologist Donald Siegel of Syracuse University in New York, whose team published the new study online this month in Environmental Science & Technology. Chesapeake Energy Corp., which has large oil and gas stakes in Pennsylvania, supplied the researchers with the database, the largest of its kind, and also funded the work."
[...]"Bert Smith, a co-author on the new study and a former employee of Chesapeake who now works as a consultant, says he initially approached the U.S. Geological Survey with the company’s data set, but the agency declined. He then asked Siegel to collaborate on the study."
[...]"Siegel says he plans to publish three more studies using the Chesapeake data.
See? Nothing to report. They investigated themselves and found all claims against them to be baseless! (Where have I seen THAT tactic before...?)

This is just one TINY aspect of this book. I don't know how she managed to research everything she did, and then compile it all into a narrative, and then pare it down to just 400 pages, AND make it interesting and terrifying as hell. But she did. This book covers an IMMENSE amount of ground, and history, and the scope of it is just mindboggling. I honestly had anxiety listening to some of it because it's just so huge - the scale of the industry and the damage being done is so huge... I just don't even know how we even begin dealing with it. But, it does end on a hopeful note, that the tides seem to be turning, and awareness and progress in renewable energies is gaining ground, and so there is hope.

I was a little surprised at how little this book focused on the previous occupant of the White House. But I guess I shouldn't have been. He was a useful idiot, a tool to advance the agenda of Rex Tillerson, who wanted nothing more than a deal with Russia to drill the Arctic. Russia worked HARD to get him installed for that to happen... but there's not much else to say about him. He's unimportant. I did find the sections about Russia and their plots and schemes for America to be quite interesting though. I may have to watch The Americans after all.

Anyway - I highly, highly recommend this book. The audiobook is phenomenal if you can get it. Somehow, hearing Rachel's sardonic and snarky asides and jibes just added enough levity to get me through without a paper bag to breathe into.

And then recycle.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
Author 6 books203 followers
February 2, 2020
The subtitle says a lot about the book: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. The dedication reads "To the bots and trolls, all of you, with love."

The introduction begins with a tease. Some "head of state" is visiting New York in 2003, laying flowers at the the site of the Twin Towers. We find out after three pages that it is Vladimir Putin, one of the greatest bullshitters of my lifetime. And he had the whole city strung along. He was celebrating a new gas station belonging to Lukoil, the largest and most profitable oil company in Russia.

But as Rachel Maddow said, the 15 years since then were filled with "mistakes."--"His efforts to restore Russia as a world-stage superpower no longer depend on capacity and know-how. They depend on cheating. Putin and his minions cheat at the financial markets. They cheat at the Olympics. They cheat at their own fake democracy. They cheat other people out of their democracies."

Ch 1: The "big bang" occurred on August 28, 1859 when "rock oil" was discovered on a farm in Pennsylvania. They were looking for it and drilled to a depth of 69 1/2 feet. The owner and a hired man pulled 42 gallons of crude oil per day. Now around the world 90 million barrels are produced every day. Here is what the President Emeritus of Harvard said in 1915: "This business . . . was an American invention." One man in particular was John D. Rockefeller and his industry Standard Oil. He managed to take control of all oil refineries. There was Rockefeller in oil, Andrew Carnegie in steel, Philip Armour in meat, and James Duke in cigarettes. Rockefeller's fortune in today's dollars would be TRIPLE that of the #1 person on Forbes list. He called making money "a gift from God." Recently Trump was referred to as "ordained by God." When the Supreme Court tried to break him up, he managed to control the separate companies formed. Free enterprise it was not.

Quote: "The DNA of Standard Oil is shot through the oil industry, as are Standard's dominant traits: a penchant for pinching pennies, an eagerness to devour and expand, a mistrust and even hatred of government regulation, a vaguely delusional sense of higher calling, and a wary respect for innovation."

Ch2: Interesting metaphor about sucking oil like water out of sponge. Most of us think it is like a Big Gulp drink. It's not. This is where fracking comes in. In 1969 there was the Project Rulison where a nuclear bomb was used to get at natural gas in the Rockies. One problem was the gas was left "mildly radioactive." All part of Atoms for Peace and Project Plowshares. In January 1957, Disney devoted an entire hour of its tv show to "Our Friend the Atom."

Ch3 centers around Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the oil company Yukos. He grew up under communism and understood how to rise: "The ticket to that happy life was the unbroken demonstration of fealty to the Communist Party." Then the USSR broke up. He still followed his "guiding light" of "Profit." Capitalism was failing under Yeltsin because there were no regulations to control it and no one knew what they were doing. Corruption took over and a few wealthy men took control and became billionaires. They also became what we would call mobsters.

Khodorkovsky knew how to curry favor and got to be in control of Yukos. Big shots from America came over to join the wealth grab. Siberia looked like the goose that could lay golden eggs forever. But once Yeltsin was out, his time was running out.

The little known Vladimir Putin was coming into power slowly. Putin created a fake sex tape (sound familiar with Trump?) and destroyed a Russian prosecutor. He became the next man up for the presidency. But Putin was not a free market or Westernized man. He was security, KGB, being tough. He wanted Russia to be a great power again. His motto was "For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law."

Putin would begin a purge, but not quite like Stalin. Khodorkovsky would go to jail on trumped up charges. Putin would take over the oil company. Some people think of him now as one of the wealthiest men in the world. Joining him were corporations like Exxon, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs.

Ch4 is about Aubrey McClendon and oil in Oklahoma. It discusses the "special tax favors for oil and gas producers have been in force since Woodrow Wilson's first year in office and still stand today, seventeen presidential administrations later, as the LONGEST RUNNING WELFARE PROGRAM in the nation's history."

Ch5 The importance of getting the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball team meant a lot to the state. We see how oil and gas money is tied to success or failure. There is no alternative. It's all boom or bust. The state was trying to escape the image of Grapes of Wrath. And then came natural gas and shale.

Ch6 We meet Rex Tillerson and his favorite book Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I read it in high school. Enjoyed it a bit. Little did I know the damage it would cause with libertarian madness: hatred of government, hatred of regulations, and rule by oligarchs. In 2008, Tillerson as head of Exxon Mobil banked a $45 billion net profit for his shareholders. That was tops in reported corporate history. He was not the type of man who enjoyed working with democracies. Dictators eliminated all of those pesky bureaucrats that Americans seem to hate so much (and shouldn't).

In 1999 Exxon and Mobil merged. Can you imagine the power and the money? And as I have already said, the tax codes were fixed for their benefit. No matter how much money they made. No president could fight them.

Ch7 Rex Tillerson used his access to immense wealth to effect all over the world. Once he paid $600,00 in fines for killing 85 birds that were protected. A drop in the bucket for Exxon. He paid 32.2 million for Indian tribes who were cheated out of royalty payments. Other examples are here as well.

Then came the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Eleven workers died. Of course, British Petroleum was "deeply saddened." They followed all of Exxon's strategies. Delay and lie. Sound familiar in the Trump administration? The truth is that there were warnings and sloppiness.

Another familiar name Rick Perry said, "There are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented." It's all God's fault. It is Rick Perry who said Trump was "the chosen one." That's God's fault too.

Just ten days after Deepwater Horizon, an aging pipeline in Nigeria erupted. A million gallons of oil leaked into the delta. A 2006 study showed that 11 million gallons of oil per year leak into the Niger delta. The curse of precious resources. Do you think people really care? No one in Congress bugged Tillerson about it.

Ch8, we meet Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, the leader of Equatorial Guinea. We see his lavish lifestyle as Exxon pours millions into his bank account, torture of dissidents, a country worse off because it has oil. The Resource Curse or the Paradox of Plenty. The money goes to oligarchs and the land and water are destroyed. Even for mid-level countries like Russia. Oil brings capital but not jobs. Hey, at least they're not socialists!

Ch9, we learn more about Equatorial Guinea. This quote: "Everywhere they operate on earth, oil and gas companies are incentivized to push as far as they can on extraction and to escape negative consequences. ... That's the basic math that produces their profit, their market share, their stock price, and the happiness of their shareholders. ... So, the longer the relevant ruler is in power the better." They need that dictator on their payroll. When some honest Senators in Congress tried to stop them, Tillerson fought back hard. Here is an interesting detail: "it would harm Exxon's relations with Russia."

Ch10 Putin wanted American investment and capital, but he didn't trust us. The chapter was like an episode of The Americans, one of my favorite tv shows of all time.

Ch11 deals with fracking. In Oklahoma, they had a 10,000 percent jump in the number of felt earthquakes. But that is only part of it. We see dogs dying because they drank from puddles in the street. A horse dies from heavy metal poisoning. A teenager has suffering so severe he has to get morphine. A toxicology test shows arsenic poisoning. In the meantime, no one does anything about the drilling. Not a single thing.

The excuse is "accidents happen." Poisonous water is spread all around in many different states. In Louisiana there was an example of 17 cows dying in a matter of hours. In Pennsylvania, they have one EPA inspector for every 1,750 wells. Forget about the companies themselves caring.

Ch12 goes into more failures of the fracking industry to police itself. There is water contamination everywhere. The only pressure business has is economic pressure. That means increase production and reduce costs. Protecting the environment is a whole other thing.

Ch13 Rex Tillerson goes to the Sochi Olympics in Russia to seal an oil deal with Putin. Tillerson would later become the Secretary of State for the US and famously call Trump a "fucking moron" before he got fired. Everything about Trump has Russia and oil written all over him.

Ch14, 15 we see this is all about Russian honor and power. These guys are not running a country, they are running a crime mob.

Ch16 deals with Arctic drilling. Russia has an enormous fleet of icebreakers. The US has only two. Putin plans to take control of Arctic waters as ice melts to drill for oil. After all, how hard can it be to drill for oil in the Arctic?

Ch17 reviews some of the connections Putin's intelligence apparatus made with Trump associates. Carter Page was referred to as a "useful idiot." Guccifer was linked to the Russian controlled hackers. It is interesting that Guccifer tried to tear down the FBI and other US government institutions. They have a pretty good helper in the White House now.

Ch18 we see how Putin cosied up to Trump at an early stage. What could it hurt?

Ch19, here are some of my thoughts on nuclear weapons:

Viktor Yanukovych ran for President of Ukraine in 2004. He had the full financial support of Putin. Yanukovych's chief rival and Western-friendly Viktor Yushchenko suddenly had a pockmarked face from dioxin poison. Wonder who did that. The election was marked with fraud with help from Russia.

The Supreme Court of Ukraine declared the results invalid. That takes courage. Putin realized he could not rely on politicians. He turned to oligarchs. Next we see oil and natural gas and good ol' Paul Manafort.

Note: The President of the US Donald Trump, the man concerned about corruption in Ukraine, had Manafort for a campaign manager. How do people stand by this president?

A lot happens. Eventually, Yanukovych will run to Russia with a lot of stolen cash from the Ukraine government.

Rumor has it that Putin watched the video of the death of Gaddafi over and over. No way he is going to allow that to happen to him. Our President feels the same way about his position. No way he will ever leave peacefully.

Through it all, what did Tillerson and ExxonMobil care about? The bottom line: their return on investment.

Ch21 Harold Hamm was convinced hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling could do for oil what they were doing for gas. He became connected to Mitt Romney who spoke of him in this way: "This is how the founders envisioned America. They didn't want to have a country that was dominated by, driven by, guided by a government; instead they wanted to have a country that was driven by free people pursuing their dreams." In other words, the filthy rich who would keep getting richer on our backs.

So Hamm complained about anti-fracking paranoiacs, climate change alarmists, green energy missionaries, and overreaching government regulators. He believed in NO limits on the free market. Libertarianism on steroids. That is why I believe it is the most dangerous ideology in the world today.

Ch21 we see how tax cuts for oil and gas industry eliminates the revenue of Oklahoma. They took a rigid anti-government posture. Worked great for big companies, not so good for regular people. Schools, cops, and roads were being shortchanged. They passed a bill requiring 75% vote to "raise taxes." Republicans said, "We don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem." Tell that to the 7 children who died in a tornado because the school did not have enough money for shelters.

Teachers finally fought back, but they lost in the long run. This is Republican territory. Tax revenues for oil and gas went from over a billion to about 500 million in a few years. And Oklahoma is oil and gas all the way, so where else do you look for money? How about the Oral Roberts ministry. He kept hitting people up for money so they could "talk to God" about prospering.

Ch22 we see Putin excited about gas and oil fields in the Arctic as climate change opens up that area. Of course, ExxonMobil would be helping him out.

Yanukovych hollowed out the Ukrainian military while in office and robbed the coffers. As the Russian soldiers moved into Eastern Ukarine without uniforms, they killed more than a thousand Ukrainian soldiers. One key was the devastating heavy artillery provided by the Russian military. One group was surrounded. They were promised a safe passage out. As they marched down the so-called "humanitarian corridor," more than one hundred were slaughtered by heavy artillery. Putin hailed it as a separatist victory, all the while knowing it was a Russian-backed slaughter. The West watched in silence

Boris Nemtsov organized a Russian protest against Putin's actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. He complained that Putin was installing an inferiority complex against the West, that he was following the lead of Joseph Goebbels by lying and repeating the lies, that Russians had to wake up and save their country. Nemtsov was gunned down while walking a short distance from the Kremlin. It seemed to be planned by two or three dozen people, in other words, the Russian secret police.

Suddenly tweets and posts exploded blaming Ukraine for the assassination of Nemtsov to stir up anti-Putin opposition. As one white nationalist speaker said, "One hundred repetitions make one truth. The defenders of the truth can be overwhelmed by repeated lies." And no lie was too outlandish. At the very least it would confuse the news. They even pushed a separatist movement in Texas. That'll show America! Let THEM see what it's like. All of this led by Russian agents, who are now busy working on confusing Americans as the election approaches. They have influenced NRA leader Wayne LaPierre and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. All to cause turmoil. And they are getting better. Any complex issue now has Russian trolls involved.

My final comments are placed in the comments section.
14 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2020
Superficial. Repackaging of other people's reporting with no new research or insights. Lots of accusations without facts to support assertions. Asserts that oil always corrupts but the evidence is that in countries with strong democratic institutions (Norway and the UK and Australia for example) this is not true. It is true, and not news, that any form of sudden wealth created in a country without strong institutions corruption flourishes. That is true not only regarding oil. The story of Equatorial Guinea is tragic in this regard. But, whether Exxon pulled out of the country or not the ruling family would find some other oil company to produce their oil.

Rex Tillerson was recognized to be a mediocre CEO at Exxon, but he was not corrupt. She asserts otherwise but doesn't substantiate that. Aubrey McClendon was well known for his greed and gambling mentality leading to boom and bust. So what? She implies that everyone in the business is corrupt which is far from true and cherry-picks incidences and examples that support such a conclusion. It is true in every industry, including journalism that some people misbehave. Oil is no different.

Mostly, the book is about Putin who's corruption has been well-documented by others. Oil and natural gas have enabled him to become a dictator because their economy and system is empty of alternatives. The only way to loosen his power is for oil and natural gas supplies elsewhere in the world to swamp demand and push down the prices and thereby take his power away. US shale has helped. If Saudi had not cut back its production oil would trade at $30/barrel and Russia/Putin would be bankrupt.

She is right that US English environmental regulations have been lax. Not surprisingly, oil companies lobby for their best interest. The real culprit is the weak, power hungry US politicians in DC and locally who have no backbone. That is the real story. They could have raised gasoline taxes easily over the past twenty years but have been scared to do so. They could restrict flaring but haven't, and penalized methane leaks but haven't. Shame on them.

Mostly, shame on the short-sighted US voters who don't conserve energy, who don't protect the environment, who don't vote politicians out of office, who consume so much, who balk at higher consumption taxes on oil, who buy SUV's, who voted in Trump and Moscow Mitch.

It is somewhat humorous that Maddow blasts the industry but tells us that she likes to drive her gas-guzzling pick-up. Hypocrite.

Btw, how do you write a book pummeling the oil industry and say little about Saudi? Talk about profligate spending and corruption...
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,509 reviews11 followers
December 28, 2019
"When government is no match for the power of the industry, it instead becomes an enabler, an apologist, and often a corrupt participant in the industry running roughshod."

That quote pretty much sums it up. Things in the oil and gas industry haven't changed much since John D. Rockefeller made his fortune with Standard Oil. The links back to this dynasty are scary. Rex Tillerson's tenure at ExxonMobil is frightening even more so that he was appointed Secretary of State for a minute under Trump. It's what I've always known: government is run by the capitalists. We see this more so with the current White House.

I was directly affected by the lull in oil/gas a few years back when my husband would come home from his job as a machinist and tell me who got laid off that day. Eventually he came home and said, "Next week is my last week." Just like that. From ten hours of overtime to a cut in pay to a third of what he was making to unemployment. Maddow did the research and helped me to understand how and why.

It all makes me very sad. And very angry.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,361 reviews455 followers
December 28, 2019
I read some, and it was well-reasoned and well-presented and other good qualities in a nonfiction book about the interplay between corporations and politics.

But I could only have it for a shortish time, and really, I know enough about the topic to believe Maddow is an accurate reporter with insight, and I don't actually have to read the book.

So, not completed, but appreciated nonetheless. This winter (it's December 2019 as I write this) I just don't need the stress that politics gives me. So I returned it to the library and checked out a stack of picture books instead.
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