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Steve Coll Wins FT/Goldman Prize for Exxon Mobil Study

Steve Coll
Author Steve Coll's book "Private Empire" is the winner of the 2012 FT/Goldman Sachs book prize. Source: Fortier Public Relations via Bloomberg

Steve Coll’s “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” (Penguin Press) won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award Thursday night.

Coll is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public-policy institute in Washington.

He overcame competition from Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” and four other books to claim the prize, which comes with 30,000 pounds (about $48,000), during a dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Manhattan.

“‘Private Empire’ is forensic, nuanced and extremely well written,” Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times and chairman of the judging panel, said in a press release. “It is the story of Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s most powerful companies. Through a series of compelling narratives, it covers Exxon’s huge geopolitical footprint and its influence.”

Coll, who started out as a Wall Street reporter, said in his acceptance speech that “We live in a world in which we really have to think holistically about the relationship between these institutions, our societies, and our politics.”

Five Finalists

Each of the five other finalists received 10,000 pounds ($16,000). They included Isaacson’s biography of the founder of Apple (published by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. and Little, Brown in the U.K.), which was written with Jobs’s cooperation and published just after his death.

The other finalists were:

“Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson (Crown Business/Profile), which argues that the answer lies in politics.

“The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk-Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust” by John Coates (Penguin Press/Fourth Estate), in which a former Wall Street trader examines whether testosterone and other hormones impair the judgment of traders.

“What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” by Michael J. Sandel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Allen Lane), the Harvard professor’s argument that some things should be beyond markets.

“Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence” by William L. Silber (Bloomsbury), a biography of the former Federal Reserve Board chairman.

Judging Panel

This year’s judges were Barber; Vindi Banga, a partner at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice; Lynda Gratton, a professor at London Business School; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum; Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; Jorma Ollila, chairman of Royal Dutch Shell; Shriti Vadera, director of Shriti Vadera Ltd.

Goldman Sachs and the Financial Times inaugurated the prize in 2005 to highlight books that provide “the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues.” Previous winners include Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat”; Mohamed El-Erian’s “When Markets Collide”; and Raghuram G. Rajan’s “Fault Lines.”

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Greg Evans on movies.

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