Blowout, by Rachel Maddow

2019-11-12-blowout-by-rachel-maddow
Reading Rachel Maddow's Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth is like listening to an exceptionally long monologue for her MSNBC show. Her voice is genial, her subject important, and her arguments carefully researched and informative—but her laid-back, rangy, coolest-professor-on-campus style undermines the urgency of her subject.

In Blowout, Maddow takes readers on a guided tour of the oil and gas industry's recent past, connecting it to everything from fracking-induced earthquakes in Oklahoma to Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election. She lays out a clear pattern of the industry's ongoing and far-ranging corruption. Her examples range from bizarre (a minor government minister acquiring over a million dollars' worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia) to run-of-the-mill depressing (politicians denying obvious science), but her theme is clear: oil corrupts, and Big Oil corrupts absolutely.

First of all, Blowout provides excellent background reading for Donald Trump's impeachment hearings. Russia, Ukraine, corruption, hacking—it's all here! (Except for Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who is an inexplicably low-key figure in both this book and the impeachment proceedings. Truly, he has dodged the spotlight with far more agility than he ever exhibited on Dancing With the Stars.) There is also a wonderful explanation of the Resource Curse, based around the horrifying but crystal-clear example provided by Equatorial Guinea. But while individual sections of Blowout are fascinating and informative, the book as a whole lacks the narrative drive that elevates the best nonfiction. Maddow might have been better off narrowing her subject to something more specific (like Putin's role in shaping 21st century oil markets, for example), or devoting more dramatic urgency to her calls to constrain the oil industry's worst impulses. As it is, Blowout is a totally reasonable use of your time and money, but on the Great Nonfiction scale, it's closer to The Water Will Come than Cadillac Desert.
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Posted by: Julianka

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