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Another well-done recap of the bitter, high-stakes contest for Getty Oil, whose apparent winner (Texaco) was forced into bankruptcy, thanks to a $10.5-billion judgment obtained by the nominal loser (Pennzoil). Coll's version is in substantial agreement with that provided by Thomas Petzinger, Jr. in his estimable Oil and Honor (p. 703). Owing perhaps to the authors' variant vantage points, however, there's a world of difference in how they present the facts of the matter. To illustrate, Houston-based Petzinger offered an episodic reprise that gives greater weight to the interests of the Texans involved in the case; among other distinctions, his account probed the aspirations of Hugh Liedtke (Pennzoil's CEO), regional antipathies, and the capabilities of the litigants' local trial lawyers. By contrast, Coll, who works out of Manhattan (for The Washington Post), furnishes a largely chronological narrative, which, save for a brief--and amendable--afterword, ends with the hometown jury's decision to award Pennzoil unprecedented damages. At the heart of his story, moreover, is the frequently bizarre power struggle between seemingly naive Gordon Getty (the sole fiduciary of a family trust that owned 40% of the sizable enterprise built by his father, J. Paul) and the worldly business professionals who ran Getty Oil. In recounting the consequences of Gordon's unauthorized shopping of the company, Coil (The Deal of the Century) does not discount the influence wielded by a clutch of Wall Street mercenaries on the confounding course of events. Gordon's investment bankers, for example, viewed his agreement in principle with Liedtke for the trust's pivotal position as an eleventh-hour opportunity to solicit higher bids. When Texaco responded and snatched Liedtke's prize, the Pennzoil chieftain sued--and won a verdict that promises to provide gainful, if not precisely productive, employment for the attorneys of all parties to the star-crossed deal for years to come. As a practical matter, there's precious little to choose between the two books, which both set high journalistic standards for future reports. Coll delivers a commendably straightforward account of the Byzantine proceedings, plus a detailed briefing on Gordon's running battle with Getty insiders, while Petzinger earns the nod for coverage of the Texaco/Pennzoil trial and interpretive commentary on the implications of this long-playing cause cÉlèbre.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Atheneum