In this post I am just pasting a review of an amazing book about Oil. The author is a French citizen and the book is a translation recently released. It is far more than just a history of the oil industry such as Yergin’s The Prize published in 1990. I submitted this review to Amazon where I often review notable books and they refuse to post it. I assume it was due to some strong opinions I offered about some of our recent feckless political leaders. Sorry Jeff. Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.
Matthieu Auzanneau has written the definitive history of oil, far eclipsing the authors who preceded him, notably Daniel Yergin who wrote THE PRIZE in 1991. Yergin’s book, now very dated covers similar ground up to about 1990. Yergin’s book emphasizes the importance and positive aspects of the rise of and importance of the oil industry in transforming the industrial civilization and he is even today a consultant to the world’s oil production titans. He is often portrayed as the authoritative voice of the oil industry broadly brushed.. His predictions of oil demand and supply along with the EIA and IEA have long dominated the discussion over policies of oil extraction and supply. He has been exceedingly well paid as a spokesman of big oil and the conflict of interest should be obvious. An independent analyst he is not. Auzanneau, a French citizen, stands in sharp contrast to Yergin and covers similar ground as did Yergin but delves far deeper into the history and importance of oil and gives a far clearer picture of the people and events behind the rise of the industrial economy fueled by oil. Where Yergin in his readable style gives a history of oil, Auzanneau gives a history of the importance of oil as the fundamental basis of wealth and military power and the bedrock of the world economic system. In addition he fills in the 30 year gap from the publication of Yergin’s The Prize.
Fundamentally the book is a behind the scenes look at the origins of the oil industry from John D Rockefeller of Standard Oil and his necessarily tight relationships with financial Tycoons like JP Morgan. The economic and industrial power of the oil industry allied with the military and political power of the federal government expanded into an empire seeking to control access to oil resources far distant from the dusty windswept plains of Texas and Oklahoma. He covers the other European and Asian competitors also striving for dominance of oil supplies as all sought to monopolize access to The Prize. The book is filled with fascinating anecdotes of the major players in the industries and the palace intrigues of world political leaders. There is a long section on the role of oil in wars of the last century and the 21st century as well. The lesson I learned is that most of the wars were over and about oil. The victors were victorious because they had oil. The losers lost because they didn’t. For example Germany’s military aircraft technology was equal to or superior to American and British technology but the Germany’s insufficient access to quality crude stocks and additives yielded fuel of inferior octane quality. The Luftwaffe’s 90+ octane avgas was no match for the allies 130+ octane gasoline which delivered far higher performance. When the German military failed to secure Caspian ,Middle Eastern and Romanian oil fields, the war was lost. The same happened to Japan when their pipeline to the Indonesian oil was cut. Oil Power and War covers how the US CIA and Britain’s MI6 maintained a stranglehold over Persian Gulf oil in the postwar period by bribes,secret cartels and Faustian agreements with the Middle East countries. This included Operation Ajax toppling Mohammad Mossadegh, the “father” of Iranian democracy in August 1953, and establishing “friendly” regimes aligned with their corporate and colonialist goals. The US played off one country against the other to make sure no country or leader achieved dominance or became too uppity challenging the established order of the giant independent oil majors. Eventually Persian Gulf leaders and tribes rebelled against the colonial powers and nationalized their industries, the situation that exists today. The US with its own domestic vast oil supplies dominated the world stage for much of the 20th century but as domestic resources waned our political and economic elites mounted a renewed power grab for Persian Gulf oil access laid out clearly in the Carter Doctrine which established the US as the policeman of the oil corridors. Auzanneau covers this in exquisite detail. The lies of the Bush and Cheney administration are laid out in stark detail. Dick Cheney shouted “It is not about oil!” He insisted It was about promoting democracy and preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction. It was about creating prosperity and spreading democratic western values. These are revealed as blatant lies as the war was solely about getting access to the last unsurveyed Iraqi oil fields which needed to go to American Oil companies after the invasion of Iraq. But the strategy to seize Iraq’s oil failed. Civil war ensued. The entire region was thrown into chaos and irony of ironies, it was China who ended up with the bulk of the access. The picture Auzanneau portrays of America’s feckless misadventures in the Middle East is not a pretty one. Shortly after the absurd “mission accomplished” Bush spectacle on the Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003, Madeline Albright was asked about the 500,000 children in Iraq who perished in the lead up to the war because of US bombs and sanctions. “Was it worth it?” she was asked. Secretary of State Albright did not hesitate. “Yes. It was worth it.”
The books value lies not just in a fantastically detailed history of oil but in the importance of oil as the primary energy of our industrial civilization. Oil IS the economy and the control of Oil is power. Oil and energy use per capita is directly correlated with improved living standards, public health and achievements of medicine,democracy, women’s suffrage, education and technological advancement in the countries that possessed the access and the use of oil. But fossil oil is finite and as it depletes can the economy and these hard won societal achievements principally in the West, be preserved? These are questions Matthieu addresses and he offers his opinions which must be emphasized are his opinions. He does not suffer fools gladly and spares no punches with current world leaders. This will offend some readers and inform others. My opinion as an oil analyst is that his data and facts are unassailable in most cases . This book is the historical gold standard about oil history and anyone who wants to understand how the industrial world came into being and where its trajectory might land must read this 550 page masterpiece.