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

by Rachel Maddow

Hardcover, 2019

Call number

338.2 MAD


Crown (2019), Edition: First Edition, 432 pages


"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.""--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nancyadair
I thought I should read Blowout by Rachel Maddow. Should being the giveaway work 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.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
I got the book just because Rachel wrote it, and I knew she'd have a great analysis. The way she ties oil and gas with global corruption is fascinating. It should be a must-read for everyone especially now. Why did Russia help trump into office? The answer is here. These days I do most of my reading from the library, but I had to buy this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member DanieXJ
Unsurprisingly, Maddow's books, especially this one, are like her TV show, more specifically the openings on her TV Show. The book isn't always linear, but, it also unfolds in a way that does make sense.

It's all about the oil and gas, but, as the book goes along, it's like all these other things, feeder roads, and a ton of them, are all hooked into the big oil and gas superhighway.

I've never heard it put in a way like the 'Resource Curse' either, but, that phrase does work perfectly (and depressingly) for what goes on in so many of these countries (and United States states sometimes).

Oh, and if you're not a fan of Russia at this point in time, you'll most definitely love this book.

I received this book via Netgalley thanks to Random House Publishing Group Crown Publishing.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
This is a non-fiction account of insatiable greed on the part of a particular segment of self-serving, uncaring people drunk on money and power, who work directly in, or benefit indirectly from, the oil and gas industry. It demonstrates how this industry fuels politics around the world, and has played a surprising role in attempts by Vladimir Putin to sow discord in the West and control Washington.

Rachel Maddow, known from her news show on MSNBC, is more than a media pundit: she received her undergraduate degree in public policy from Stanford and a doctorate in political science from Oxford University. The information in her book is meticulously researched and documented.

She carefully weaves together connections between oil executives in the U.S. and oligarchs in Russia. Putin has chosen to gamble the future of Russia entirely on the success of its oil and gas production. But his control of the industry is based on “graft, financial manipulation, and violence as needed,” rather than expertise, so he needs technology from the West to achieve his aims. Western companies - in particular, ExxonMobil - have been more than willing to ignore Russia’s strong-arm and even murderous tactics in exchange for the opportunity to get in on the lucrative development of its untapped resources. In fact, as Maddow points out, the oil companies share a number of undemocratic values with Putin in any event, including a deep hatred for government regulation impacting their own operations, and a dedication to enlarging personal profits at the expense of wreaking “geopolitical and environmental havoc both at home and the world over.”

Maddow includes fascinating portraits of the people who run the energy businesses, and how they spend their vast fortunes. What choices do you make, for example, when your net worth is $162 billion or more? How much is necessary to make sure politicians vote your way? (No matter how much you spend, it’s peanuts in relation to the financial benefits of tax write-offs. As Maddow notes, “U.S. taxpayer subsidies for oil and gas drilling are now almost literally insane,” and she gives numerous examples of why this is so.) How many houses and yachts do you buy? (Spoiler alert: as many as you can.) What concern do you have for the many people who are left to deal with your industry's toxic waste poisoning the air, land, and water, and damage from the massive numbers of earthquakes you have generated? (Spoiler alert: none.)

She also explains fracking; how and why fracking generates “earthquake swarms"; and how the growth of fracking has put pressure on those in the energy industry to get on top of the curve.

Most importantly for American readers, Maddow shows what it actually meant to appoint the CEO of ExxonMobil to be Secretary of State; why the Russians were so eager to meet with, and offer support (both overt and covert) to the Trump campaign, and what it all had to do with oil and gas, inter alia. (Hint: it’s all about removing the sanctions that impede further oil and gas exploration.) She explains how even the Trump Tower Moscow project was adversely affected by the sanctions, which helped influence Trump's opposition to them. Maddow writes: “Mueller assessed [it] could have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Trump” if only he could get those pesky sanctions lifted.

Putin, a former KGB operative, is always looking for “useful idiots” to exploit. The Trump campaign team, she argues, offered plenty of them. (The sanctions themselves however have been miraculously - at least until now - protected by Congress, in spite of vigorous efforts by both the Trump team and the oil and gas industry to eliminate them.)

Maddow also clarifies what Putin’s aggressive actions in Ukraine have to do with oil and gas - a great deal, as it turns out, and how Putin managed to keep Europe and the United States mostly in check as he took what he wanted. (It became a lot easier after the Russia-friendly Trump Administration came into power.) She also explains why the leadership of Ukraine will meet even the most absurd demands from the U.S. President if the country can procure help in protecting itself from Russia's predatory aims.

Using data collected from the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Maddow delineates, in perhaps her scariest chapter, how techies at a Russian troll farm - the “Internet Research Agency” north of St. Petersburg - disseminated misinformation via fake accounts by people working in two separate twelve-hour shifts - around-the-clock information warfare. As one adherent claimed: “One hundred repetitions make one truth. The defenders of the truth can be overwhelmed by repeated lies.”

Putin’s trolls were told to focus on the most contentious and divisive issues in America and fan the flames. One of them later confessed: “Our goal wasn’t to turn Americans toward Russia. Our goal was to set Americans against their own government. To provoke unrest, provoke dissatisfaction.” In short, to set up a situation in which millions of angry, disaffected people might vote for someone who wanted to tear the system down from the inside. Analogous to the oil and gas industry, Maddow notes, Putin’s army of trolls “poured infectious waste” into the most ragged faults and fissures in Western democracy. [Presumably they are still hard at work, but Maddow sticks to what has been documented thus far.]

The oil and gas industry also sought to influence the 2016 election, enriching the coffers of Republican candidates by some $152 million, compared to $21 million for Democrats. When the Republicans won all three branches of government, party members quickly began to dismantle any legal protections for consumers against the industry. These included the repeal of laws requiring clarification of payments by oil and gas companies to foreign governments as well as the necessity for any declarations delineating actual tax payments and the use of tax shelters. They also eliminated as many Obama-era environmental protections as they could manage, a project that is ongoing.

What can we do? Maddow argues:

“Containment is the small-c conservative answer to the problem at hand - democratically supported, government-enforced active and aggressive containment. . . . Powerful enemies make for big, difficult fights. But you can’t win if you don’t play, and in this fight it’s the stakes that should motivate us: Democracy either wins this one or disappears. It oughtta be a blowout.”

Evaluation: I felt like I needed a shower after each chapter, reading about the avarice and corruption that characterizes oil and gas industry operatives around the world, and how politicians have been bought off to protect that system. But in spite of the unpleasantness of this information, I think it is critical for Americans to understand not only how this industry has distorted the democratic process, but how the Russians have successfully roiled the waters in the West, and continue to do so. If we don’t gain awareness and get inspired to take grassroots action to protect democracy, there may be nothing left to protect.
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LibraryThing member LisCarey
This is a fascinating and scary book about what the oil and gas industry has done, to the world in general, to Russia in particular, and in lesser ways to the USA.

Discovering the great natural wealth of large deposits of oil and natural gas ought to be a great boon to a country--and it can be. If it has a strong, functional government committed to the national welfare, not just the private wealth of the ruling class, it can be. Even countries that aren't at all democratic, such as a number of the Middle Eastern oil powers, have managed to raise the income, education, and health of much of the population, not just the privileged ruling classes.

But others haven't. Maddow first introduces us to Equatorial Guinea, and the complete lack of benefit to the economic lower classes there, while the ruling family and their friends rake in the billions.

Then she moves on to a more detailed examination of what oil has done to Russia--killing off the infant democracy that Yeltsin, by no means free of corruption himself, very nearly got started, to be replaced by Putin's oligarchs and Russian mafia.

And also what it's done even in the USA, with lasting, bizarre tax breaks for the most profitable industry in the history of the world, along with environmental damage that's hard to regulate and control even when the law technically clearly requires it. Oil is corrupting even here, and we feel the effects of it. Yet we do have a functional government, still, and when there's enough popular anger, the government responds, and the effects do get controlled and cleaned up. Even in the oil state of Oklahoma, the fracking-created earthquake swarms are finally being contained and reduced. It's not perfect, but it's not the tragedy that is Putin's Russia.

Note: Technically, it's not fracking that causes the earthquakes. It's the disposal of the fracking liquid, injected deep into the ground, too deep, so that it reaches rock formations that are extremely vulnerable to destabilization by it. And no, that doesn't only happen in the fracking industry--but that's the industry that's doing it on a very large scale, and the industry that has enough money, power, and influence that it took years to force them to start being a bit more careful. They'd much rather have forced scientists to stop talking about it, and they very nearly succeeded for far too long. So it's not fracking that causes large increases in man-made earthquakes in previously seismically stable areas. It's the fracking industry. But for most of us, in the face of determined industry insistence that any regulation or taxation will be disastrous for the most profitable industry in history, that's pedantry and distraction.

But what's unexpected and startling--even to Rachel Maddow herself, as she's noted on some of her recent shows--is that some of the names in this deep dive into the oil industry are suddenly big in the news now, as the Russian oligarchs and Ukraine's struggles and Trump's official and unofficial presidential advisors are suddenly at the heart of our impeachment investigation.

There's a lot to be learned here, and it's unexpectedly relevant. And Maddow is an excellent reader of her own work.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
I am so impressed with how Rachel can make a fascinating story out of so much factual information, pulling it together and organizing it so that it can weave a little back and forth in time to provide the incredible picture of where we are and what we are living through in this current energy crisis. It is all so complicated, especially when foreign names are so complicated to those of us trying to remember them and keep them organized as to who did what when!! Rachel has an absolute talent for making complicated ideas and issues understandable so as for her promise to NOT write another book? Be careful what you wish for---we might all need you to write again, soon!!!… (more)
LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
An ‘ok’ book....a lot of the content had been previously written about in various sources; the Oklahoma story and the focus on Rex Tillerson were quite interesting. The fracking controversies had been written about elsewhere. Madow’s humor can be gets a little tiresome in my opinion
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
This expose (I don't know how to type the accent) of the gas and oil industry is eye-opening. I knew some of it, but I didn't begin to know all the details Rachel Maddow has revealed. Yes, Putin is corrupt and greedy, but just as corrupt and just as greedy are Rex Tillerson and some of his cohorts. Money buys power, power too often leads to corruption and greed, and oil gets money. Whether it is your oil or not. And lord help the naysayers who think that fracking may possibly lead to environmental disasters. What happened should be, and often is, criminal, and what happened in Equatorial Guinea should have resulted in prison. This book was very well researched. I am so freakin' tired of the greed and corruption ruling the world right now, and destroying us and our planet. At the time of this review, when covid-19 is foremost on our minds, we cannot forget that there are so many other issues that need our attention as well.

This book was entertaining throughout, and Rachel Maddow did a wonderful job of narrating her own work.
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LibraryThing member 2wonderY
Maddow always tells a good, in-depth, fascinating story.
LibraryThing member MrDickie
Rachel Maddow in her book, "Blowout" discusses the role of oil and gas in the government and ecomony of the nations of the world. She details the relationship between Rex Tillerson of ExxonMobil and V. Putin of Russia. She covers the topic of fracking and horizontal drilling worldwide and partricularly in the state of Oklahoma where extensive earthquakes occured as a result.… (more)
LibraryThing member Occasionally
“The oil and gas industry—left to its own devices—will mindlessly follow its own nature. It will make tons of money. It will corrode and corrupt and sabotage democratic governance. It will screw up and—in the end—fatally injure the whole freaking planet . . . The end-times battle is to commit to a whole new level of constraint and regulatory protection against this singularly destructive industry to minimize its potential harms.” p. 365

This is what the book builds up to, relating one anecdote after another (chilling and interesting in themselves) until it is clear that the greed and power inherent in commercializing this ubiquitous commodity has led to massive corruption and geopolitical shape-shifting. Page after page evokes the repeated reaction - ‘We are such pawns! The machinations are so outlandish!’

Essentially, the book is an historical analysis of the oil and gas industry, starting with Ed Drake’s drill in northwest Pennsylvania in 1859, leading up to Russia/Putin’s role (they’re one and the same) in the industry, culminating in Russia’s establishment of information warfare. That information warfare had proven a more efficient form of spying than the traditional kind, highlighted by the birth of Russia’s Internet Research Agency (322-327). It got Trump elected in Russia’s effort to get sanctions removed. We have been breached and Trump benefited (329) while civil tranquility faltered. It’s revolting—worse than the dog ralphing on the bedroom throw rug. Our democracy has been polluted (332) by oil, by greed, by Putin. The oil and gas industry has been remaking the world in its favored image for generations and it is not finished with us yet. It’s time for the most lucrative and reckless industry on earth to pay for what it does (366).

I’d do something if I didn’t feel like such a pawn.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
One of the things I like about Rachel Maddow is the manner in which she weaves a story from what might otherwise seem like disparate bits and pieces. This book reflects her reporting style. She pulls events together to weave the tapestry that is the oil and gas industry. She certainly makes a dry topic palatable to an extent. Ultimately, however, it is too much for me of a topic that is both slightly dull and quite disturbing. Listening to Maddow read the book was a pleasure, particularly when her humor came through!… (more)




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