General Business is somewhat of a catch-all category for awards entries, one that often contains our founder Jack Covert’s favorite kind of business books, Biographies & Narratives (a category we nixed a few years back much to his chagrin.) This year’s winner, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, published by the good people over at The Penguin Press, is a corporate exposé. But, as it was authored by two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, president of the New America Foundation, current staff writer for The New Yorker, and managing editor at The Washington Post from 1998 and 2004 Steve Coll, you can be assured of its great quality.
If its revenue were counted as strictly as gross domestic product, the corporation would rank as the twenty-first largest nation-state in the world. […] As Lee Raymond told his colleagues, ‘If we haven’t gotten to “economy of scale,” we’re never going to find it.’ He was optimistic. Oil prices were rising again. ‘It’s a great time to be ExxonMobil,’ he declared.”
Private Empire, page 66
Steve Coll’s case study detailing the extraordinary operation of ExxonMobil is an impartial peek into a world that, for most, is and always will be as opaque as the dense black matter they deal in. Readers are privy to a wealth of insider stories, and along the way Coll’s narrative manages to impart some of the worldly wisdom that helps the corporation stay so successful. There’s nothing small about Private Empire: big money, big oil, big drama, 700 pages. Coll’s austere narrative is the most modest element present. But the publication of Private Empire could not be timelier; one can’t resist wondering how the most consistently profitable corporation in the U.S. will transform and be transformed by the changing energy market.
To see the runners-up, check out the General Business shortlist we posted last week.