41 pages 1 hour read

Rachel Maddow


Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2019

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


In Blowout, TV host and political commentator Rachel Maddow interconnects a series of global events, all woven together by one common thread: the oil and gas industry. Through the various vignettes, Maddow offers readers a book that is part rallying cry, part exposé, part investigative journalism. Blowout sheds light on forgotten, buried news stories that have been swallowed up and dissolved into the status quo. From the opening anecdote about a Russian gas station opening in Manhattan in 2003 (which notably included Vladimir Putin’s presence) to the 2010 “earthquake swarms” in Oklahoma City, Maddow ambitiously connects the dots of the oil industry’s far-reaching grasp around the world.

The result of these connections is an alarming indictment of an industry that shapes entire economies and drives countless individuals to corruption, as evidenced in the deals being made in Russia and Equatorial Guinea, for instance. In Russia the government has gone all in on the oil and gas industry, largely due to the insistence of Vladimir Putin. In Equatorial Guinea, where abject poverty prevails, the nation’s totalitarian President Teodoro Obiang amasses personal wealth from drilling deals.

Every major chapter in the story of Big Oil and Gas is connected to the driving momentum of the industry in America, however. Maddow recounts 1969’s Project Rulison, during which a 40-kiloton nuclear bomb was detonated thousands of feet below ground in Colorado to release natural gas in the Rocky Mountains. The US government gave oil companies these nuclear bombs as an incentive to keep cheap energy flowing. While the bombs effectively released the region’s natural gas, amounting to approximately 10 years of production, the gas was turned mildly radioactive, as kypton-85 and tritium were found. Due to its messiness and high cost, the nuclear project was discarded in favor of a new method, which became commercially viable in the 1990s due to George Mitchell’s pioneering innovations.

This method, known as fracking, would soon dominate the industry and ultimately cause controversies across the nation, including congressional hearings and environmental protests. Fracking consists of the high-pressure release of slickwater, a chemical cocktail of water and a number of other toxic substances, into sedimentary rock formations that contain pockets of natural gas. Through accounts of companies such as Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy, Maddow reveals how fracking is troubled and even dangerous, as the practice has been linked to illnesses, man-made earthquakes, and the deaths of pets and livestock in areas with high volumes of drilling.

At the center of Blowout lies a varied cast of characters, from former ExxonMobil CEO and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, each person connected to the machinations of the global oil and gas industry. Maddow even draws a connection between the 2016 US presidential election, when St. Petersburg’s Internet Research Agency was enlisted to create fake social media accounts and online disinformation campaigns to promote the Kremlin’s interests and meddle with American democracy.

Blowout is a sobering reminder that the oil and gas industry is still highly unregulated, which leads to significant environmental impacts around the world, as well as ongoing geopolitical imbalances. Corruption and environmental negligence still reign supreme, no matter the effects or permanent damage. Yet in her extensive account of the industry’s dark side, Maddow still manages to suggest solutions for a way forward, the stakes infinitely high for the survival of democracy. In the final lines of the book, Maddow writes: “Democracy either wins this one or disappears. It oughtta be a blowout” (367). Thus, despite the countless tales of depravity and moral compromise, Maddow ends with hope, with a small yet direct invitation to participate in the fight against Big Oil and Gas.

blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
Unlock IconUnlock all 41 pages of this Study Guide
Plus, gain access to 7,950+ more expert-written Study Guides.
Including features:
+ Mobile App
+ Printable PDF
+ Literary AI Tools