When I finished Blowout by Rachel Maddow, I had to wash all the residual oil slick off my skin. The book is just that immersive in the oil industry. Not to mention a different kind of Kremlin-based, Putin-esque oiliness. Wow, this book contains nothing less than a gusher of information.

Blowout is sub-titled Corrupt Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. I started it hoping to better understand the messy state of 2019 politics. I got that, and then some. As Maddow has been saying on her show, the timing of this book’s publication is uncanny. There’s plenty about Ukraine and its fractured relationship with Putin in Blowout.

But its deep background starts with the origins of the oil industry and moves into detailed biographies of many industry power players. Maddow discusses Oklahoma, OKC, earthquakes, the 1995 bombing, and the titans who make or break its economy. If she does a deep dive here, she goes even further into the background of Russia’s oil industry and its oligarchs (AKA gangsters). Most importantly, she explains what it means to have only one viable global industry in a kleptocracy.

Since November 2016, reading about the politics of the current Russian state seems critically important. So far, this is the first book explaining the industry that strongly ties our two countries together, for better or worse. In one country, the government owns the oil and gas industry. And in the other, the oil and gas industry influences the government to its benefit. And if you don’t know which country is which now, Blowout makes it crystal clear.

My conclusions

Despite Maddow’s use of fact after researched fact, Blowout retains the tongue-in-cheek chattiness of her television show. Yes, definitely expect snarky asides or exclamations. The straight-up scholarly information is balanced by how she breaks down a complex situation into something easy to digest. That is, if you don’t mind your hydraulic fracking with a substantial side order of corruption.

Because of her unique writing style, I zipped through this nonfiction tome. Okay, having a nasty cold helped—I took a few days off and read a lot. But don’t be concerned it’s dry. It’s not. Maddow uses a narrative, almost novelistic, approach to this true-life story. It’s extremely readable. Or change it up, and switch to the excellent author-narrated audiobook. I did both, but ultimately found that highlighting passages was more important than hearing Maddow’s familiar vocal intonations.

Impressing all my friends and family with facts and history I learned in Blowout sounds fun. Right before I buy them their own copy for the holidays. It’s an important topic that is likely to be timely for some years to come. Please give it a go.

Pair with A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West or Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. Watch this space for a November review of Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.


Thanks to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read a digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.