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

Blowout coverA somewhat timely book given all the talk about Russia’s involvement in social media and politics these days.

This isn’t purely a book about Russia though, it’s sort of an overview look at the oil and gas industry. I enjoyed how it pieced together scenarios involving multiple countries – with a focus on the US’s involvement – in the industries.

It’s easy to point the finger at the oil and gas Industry; to rant and rave about the damage they’ve done and continue to do. Even if you don’t understand exactly why the oil and gas industry is a negative one, your gut feeling probably gives you the answers you need. It seems so super villainous: drill and extract a gooey, dirty, thick, liquid, blood-like substance from the earth and then cook the shit out of it under high pressure, dump in additive chemicals, and convert it into a plethora of other stinky, explosive liquids. All the while spewing odd grey and white smoke, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, into the sky. It’s all smiles and handshakes as the owners, and stockholders, walk away with bags of cash and juicy tax breaks. That’s all true, and most people probably know it without needing to look into the actual situation.


One of the most interesting angles in this book is how it focuses on a few smaller third world developing countries who discover oil reserves within their borders. Even though the substance is gross, this sort of discovery for a developing country is a reason for celebration. The revenue such a resource brings can completely reconfigure and upgrade a country. The royalties, if negotiated correctly, could and should pay for a countries infrastructure. With proper management that developing country could start to look like one of the western ones. But as this book shows, this doesn’t happen.

It seems like every small country that catches this break is quickly corrupted. A lot of these countries have questionable governments already, and it turns out the multinational oil companies like it this way. It’s a thought I hadn’t considered.

If the leader(s) are already authoritarian – all decisions go through them – then it’s actually easier for the companies to set up shop and extract the black gold. A couple bribes here, a couple kickbacks there. When the companies only need to appease one or two leaders (or families), and don’t need to worry about public opinion, environment regulations or assessments, then access to what they want becomes easier. If they can “legally” funnel millions of dollars to the corrupt leaders, well, that makes for pretty good, and pretty predictable, ROI.

Russia’s part in this book is interesting as well. It’s curious to think about how the memes a few years ago were pretty successful in convincing people Putin was some sort of tough guy. I mean sure, he has people murdered and silenced, but this book goes over his mismanagement of Russia’s vast resources in the oil and gas industry. They should still be a super power with strong infrastructure. They should have an educated, capable population, with a growing GDP. After all, Russia (Soviet Union, I know) put the first satellite and person into space! Yet, because of their corruption and their “all in” mentality with oil and gas they’re circling the drain (I think?).

I also enjoyed Rachel Maddow’s writing style. If you’re a fan of her interviews or nightly news show then I think you’d like the vibe and feel of this book. It’s easy to have her voice in your head while you’re reading the book. It reads similar to how she speaks. I like that. I think you will too.



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