Sunday, March 07, 2010

It’s a crude, crude world out there

The global economy needs it. Nations laid their foundations upon it. It has yielded untold riches. But it has also proven a ruinous curse: wars have been declared over it; tyrants and corporate greed have thrived on it; and lives and nature have been ravaged — often irreparably — by it. Oil.

It’s running out, quicker than we thought, New York Times Magazine contributing reporter Peter Maass argues in Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. But after reading his expose of the evils, intended or otherwise, of the oil industry, this development might not be such a bad thing.

In this highly entertaining investigation, Maass, whose previous book was about war in the Balkans, takes us from the palatial oil ministries of the Middle East to the heart of darkness in Equatorial Guinea, with stops in the war-ravaged streets of Iraq, the militia-infested jungles of the Niger Delta, a cut-throat, spy-infested hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, and the environmental catastrophe in Ecuador’s Oriente.

No less fascinating are the individuals we meet who are caught in the unforgiving wheels of the oil industry. We meet jet-setting star attractions like Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, who reassures an audience in Washington that Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves are plentiful; and Matthew Simon, a former adviser to former US president George W. Bush who would very much be part of the oil nomenklatura were it not for his belief that “the American dream and the world as we know it are on the verge of falling apart” because Naimi is wrong. Guerrilla leaders, crusading lawyers, oil executives from all the best-known oil giants and ordinary soldiers, all get sucked in by the folly of oil, and Maass provides us an intimate portrait of their motivations. The full spectrum of emotions, from greed to fear, alienation to desire, inhabit this bizarre world; appropriately, they are used as titles for each section. (Interestingly, almost every person we meet is male, which, from a sociological perspective, says a lot about the oil sector.)

This book review, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

1 comment:

brett said...

This is a great post. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advice. I get less comment than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.

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