Review of Rachel Maddow’s Blowout

One of the things that annoys me about corrupt people is their use of the English language to confuse and hoodwink the rest of us.

I know this might sound like a petty complaint by an English major in college, but it isn’t really. 

We have seen these terms for decades: “protective strikes” (protective of whom or what?) “weapons of mass destruction,” or “natural” food, gas, and water (what part of Nature? Do our own bodies benefit from these things?)

Rachel Maddow’s new book Blowout is a New York Times bestseller. Rightly so! 

Especially because Rachel didn’t get the Democratic party to pony up to spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy hundreds of copies of her book to put it on the New York Times bestseller list. She earned her rating the honest way.

Yes, corruption is not always illegal as some people these days like to point out. But corruption always has negative consequences, often against innocent people who had nothing to do with it.

In particular, misuse of the English language fools a lot of us into complacency by omitting the full story or even through perverting the real story. 

In Blowout, Rachel unpacks the real meaning and unpleasant consequences of one of those terms I mentioned above: “Natural gas”.

She does this by tying “natural gas” together with “fracking” and by spelling out exactly what “fracking really entails… 

Truly, the repetitive, plodding, sometimes nitpicking details of Rachel’s TV broadcasts are nowhere to be found in this new book, Blowout. 

From the first story in her introduction, Rachel’s book is like an exciting political thriller—only it isn’t fiction. It’s well-researched stories about news most of us will never have heard before. 

The characters are real people, some of whose names we’ll recognize from Television like Peter Strzok (FBI Russian spy expert), Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon and U.S. Secretary of State), Timothy McVeigh ( Oklahoma) Lucy Lawless, (actress who played Zena on TV), Chuck Schumer (U.S. Senator) and a lot more.  

Some stories are from the past with events we may barely recall, like the the massacre of thousands of people in a stadium on an Island off the coast of Africa by the President of that country, or the auction of Michael Jackson’s memorabilia after his death. All of these stories are interesting pieces of a puzzle that eventually all fit together.

I’ve written here on this blog about the perils and politics of fracking in Western Pennsylvania. 

Having been born not far from Oil City in Pennsylvania, I’ve always wondered what happened to that town after the wells dried up. Rachel picks up that story, and it’s way worse than I’ve ever imagined. 

 Upton Sinclair Jr.’s “Oil”

Back in 1906, a “yellow journalism,” writer named Upton Sinclair jr. (not to be confused with Sinclair Lewis) wrote his most well-known novel, “The Jungle” (about meat-packing plants). That book was followed by a muck-raking novel exposé called The Brass Check, a critique of American journalism in 1919.

Sinclair also critiqued fossil fuel industries with books called, “King Coal: in 1917, and a book simply called “Oil” in 1927—a scathing critique of the Rockefeller family’s Standard Oil Company, and finally, The Coal War, published after Sinclair died.

In 1943, some 25 years before he died, Upton Sinclair had already won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, yet today very few Americans have ever read any of his book or heard of him.

I bring his name up because Rachel’s book almost a hundred years later picks up the story where Sinclair’s “Oil” ended and she expands that story across this nation of ours and to the other side of the world. 

Upton Sinclair was a progressive and a labor activist, both pejorative terms these days. But Sinclair could also accurately portray how the oil baron’s looked at things. 

Rachel, like Sinclair Lewis, makes her feelings known about people and events she describes, but she does this by using objective reporting on her details about them. Her characters are not just connected with the oil industry, but they all fit into the theme of oil in her book and help to round it out. 

In his book “Oil,” Sinclair Lewis even threw in a look at the role that leaders of fundamentalist Christian churches played in the early 20th century. That was eye opening for me.

I have to say that Rachel Maddow’s book is a much more colorfully written tale that Sinclair’s single-minded tragedy of what happened to workers during the oil boom in Southern California, but I highly recommend reading both both books for the big picture about oil and its history, 21st and 20th centuries.  

Oil on The Reservation

This year the end October, I received an email from the Lakota People at Standing Rock telling me a story that TV media were certainly not reporting at that time, “Breaking news: Yesterday the Keystone pipeline spilled again.” 

This week, Thanksgiving Week, I received a second email from the Standing Rock Tribe. 

It reported their first letter had succeeded in putting nearly 20,000 letters succeed to put pressure to hold a pubic hearing about doubling the amount of Dakota Access pipeline oil. This hearing produced another 15,000 letters in objections.

Lakota People’s Law Project email included a video of November 13th of the North Dakota Public Service Commission. It is not a long video, but I hope you will watch it. It is at

This short video supports the subject line of their email, “Shocks, Lies, and Videotapes from DAPL Hearing,” and the tribe’s assertions that “a team of bigshot attorneys and two engineers, all of whom did their best to obfuscate the implications of doubling oil flow through the pipeline.”

For more information, you can contact Phyllis Young at The Lakota People’s Law Project

The impeachment hearings will hopefully be soon over, but big oil and its corrupt practices, its lobbyists of Congress, its negative economic implications for less-developed countries as well as states in the U.S. with fracking, and its on impact on climate change all over the planet will last far longer—and perhaps have much worse consequences.

Do yourself a favor, buy or put yourself on a library waiting list and read Rachel’s book this December!


#1 Susan on 12.05.19 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for putting this book in context with the history/geography of the US and the early 20th c. author who did most to expose the early sins of the US energy industries. I’m looking forward to reading it.

#2 Mara Keller on 12.06.19 at 2:37 am

Thanks for this review! I’m a fan of Rachel’s and her ability to connect the dots about complex political issues. I (like many) think Big Oil is the chief culprit in our climate crisis. Why should the US gov’t be subsidizing Big Oil when it makes billions in profits already? We should remove the subsidies. And turn to renewable energies. asap. That’s why we need a Democratic government who will not be servants of Big Oil but will be serious about addressing climate crisis.

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