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Gulf oil spill redux: nine books on the BP disaster

April 18, 2011 |  9:48 pm

Oilslick

A year after millions of barrels of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's Macondo well, much ink has been spilled on the "second draft" of history.

None of the nine books (and counting) published thus far manages to answer two of the biggest questions raised by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon: Was the April 20, 2010, accident, which killed 11 oil rig crew members, the "worst environmental disaster in U.S. history," as many claimed, or was Tony Hayward right that the gulf is a "very big ocean" that could absorb the impact?

The best of them cut a course between those statements and cast the event in refreshing context. The rest succumb to polemics or hasty history.

Standing above them are "Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster" (Harper, March 2011), a book that deftly navigates around the good-guy versus bad-guy leitmotif; "A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher" (Simon & Schuster, April 2011) by Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post, which adds a candid view of the media's coverage; and "Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit," by Loren C. Steffy (McGraw-Hill, November 2010), business columnist for the Houston Chronicle, who demonstrates what a veteran journalist in oil country can bring to bear on a story that was unfamiliar to the majority of the country.

"Fire on the Horizon," by longtime oil-rig mariner John Konrad and former Washington Post reporter Tom Shroder, is the most cinematic of the lot. Artfully and compellingly told, the book marries a John McPhee feel for the technology to a Jon Krakauer sense of an adventure turned tragic.

"This is not a story of a rig, technology, the environment, corporate policy or government oversight, but it concerns each," Konrad writes in the author's note.

What may seem like a dodge turns out to be a brave choice, avoiding easy answers, adding subtlety and humanity to a story told largely from the deck of the rig. Konrad and Shroder ultimately let the facts speak for themselves.

Read the full review of Gulf Oil Spill books

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: Two weeks after the April 2010 spill, boaters make their way along the edge of an oil slick near Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands, part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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