New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll’s last two books, Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens, were, as he puts it, big projects about closed institutions—the Central Intelligence Agency and the Middle East’s most famous family, respectively. His latest peek behind tightly drawn curtains, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, is a detailed examination of the influential Irving-based oil corporation. ExxonMobil is famously reticent about its operations, and, as Coll explains in this interview, penetrating the company’s official PR line proved challenging, even for an experienced reporter.
Reporting on Exxon can be so difficult—the company is famous for being secretive and cultish. Can you talk a little about the difficulties of reporting this book?
I found Coll’s Ghost Wars to be an excellent read.