Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who’d Stop at Nothing to Win
Paul M. Barrett
File Size: 2311 KB
Print Length: 306 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 077043634X
Publisher: Crown (September 23, 2014)
Sold by: Random House LLC
BOOK DESCRIPTION: Steven Donziger, a self-styled social activist and Harvard educated lawyer, signed on to a budding class action lawsuit against multinational Texaco (which later merged with Chevron to become the third-largest corporation in America). The suit sought reparations for the Ecuadorian peasants and tribes people whose lives were affected by decades of oil production near their villages and fields. During twenty years of legal hostilities in federal courts in Manhattan and remote provincial tribunals in the Ecuadorian jungle, Donziger and Chevron’s lawyers followed fierce no-holds-barred rules. Donziger, a larger-than-life, loud-mouthed showman, proved himself a master orchestrator of the media, Hollywood, and public opinion. He cajoled and coerced Ecuadorian judges on the theory that his noble ends justified any means of persuasion. And in the end, he won an unlikely victory, a $19 billion judgment against Chevon–the biggest environmental damages award in history. But the company refused to surrender or compromise. Instead, Chevron targeted Donziger personally, and its counter-attack revealed damning evidence of his politicking and manipulation of evidence. Suddenly the verdict, and decades of Donziger’s single-minded pursuit of the case, began to unravel.
Readers of my blog know that I am not fond of the big oil companies and their lack of interest in protecting the environment, so it will be no surprise why I accepted this book to read and review. It chronicles an interesting and convoluted legal course of action to try to get reparations for the Ecuadorian people adversely affected by drilling.
In one chapter Barrett describes Donziger as “a rumpled Don Quixote, recommitted to his quest, flailing his longs arms,” and that is a very apt description. Donziger went after the oil company with idealism on his side much like Quixote went after the windmills, and like Quixote he was sometimes laughed at.
For me, this was an interesting look at the whole saga of the battle between Donziger and Texaco. At times I found the cast of characters overwhelming, and my interest would lag, but then it would pick back up, especially the more I got a sense of Donziger’s personality.
The story is well-documented, and I learned a number of things about the oil industry from this behind-the-scenes look. For instance, I did not know about the Chevron/Texaco merger. I wondered what happened to Texaco, but just thought it had quietly folded it’s tent. The insights into legal matters was a learning experience, too. I am not a legal expert by any stretch of the imagination, but the book seemed to have a balanced approach to both sides of the issue. Donziger may have been on the side of right as he flailed at his windmills, but in the end the legal system can’t be circumvented. Sometimes I think us idealists forget that basic fact.
I’m sure this book will be of special interest to lawyers, but I also recommend it to environmentalists and other folks who care about the negative effects of oil production. It is well-written and one can’t help but get caught up in the saga and wonder what is going to happen next. There are a multitude of complications and surprises that made me forget for a moment I wasn’t reading a piece of fiction.
PAUL will be my Wednesday’s Guest this week, so I do hope you will come back and see what he has to offer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, and The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America. He lives and works in New York City.