Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review -- Law of the Jungle, by Paul M. Barrett

In the 1990s, Lawyer Steven Donziger took on Texaco in a class-action suit on behalf of poor farmers and indigenous people in Ecuador. Texaco, which had been drilling for oil in Ecuador for decades, eventually merged with Chevron. The class action suit, which sought reparations for environmental damages and illnesses suffered by thousands of Ecuadorian people, resulted in a $19 billion judgement against Chevron.

In his book Law of the Jungle, journalist Paul M. Barrett describes how Donziger's initial good intentions deteriorated into coercion, manipulation of evidence, and an eventual racketeering claim by Chevron against Donziger. Barrett gives a detailed account of the environmental, health, and economical grounds for the class-action suit against Texaco/Chevron, as well as the freewheeling, questionable tactics used by Donziger in the case. After winning the largest environmental damages award in history against Chevron, Donziger faced accusations of fraud, bribery, and other illegal and unethical acts.

I was impressed by the author's evenhanded approach to this book. Paul M. Barrett gives just as much attention to the injustices and tragedies suffered by the Ecuadorian people as he does to the racketeering claims against Donziger. Stating that "Donziger's deeds do not, however, exonerate the oil companies or the government of Ecuador," Barrett describes Texaco's failure to enact adequate safety and cleanup measures. Barrett points out that the oil company could have avoided costly litigation if it had ensured proper environmental and health standards.

Law of the Jungle is a great read -- a page-turner as engaging as any fictional political thriller. Unfortunately, the story is indeed true, and the suffering of the poor people of Ecuador continues. This book is a pointed reminder of the power of unchecked ego, and the high-stakes temptation to let the ends justify the means. I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in environmental and legal issues, as well as anyone looking for in informative yet engaging book.

For more information about Law of the Jungle, click here. To learn more about the author and journalist Paul M. Barrett, click here.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.