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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Declining Production, Yet Plenty of Problems!
One of the ironies of oil-rich countries is that most are not rich, that their oil brings trouble rather than prosperity. Norway is THE outlier to this statement; other less dramatic exceptions are usually tiny nations with disproportionately large reserves - Kuwait, Brunei, and the United Arab Emirates.

Maass goes on to remind readers that world oil production...
Published on September 26, 2009 by Loyd E. Eskildson

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77 of 93 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Read with a grain of salt.
As a drilling engineer, I have worked in many of the places described in this book, even been to some of the bars mentioned. For the record, Chin, the lady who owns the Shangrila bar in Malabo, is not Chinese, but Korean. Anyway, I find much of what Maass says about peak oil, falsifying reservoir figures, and outright bribing of government officials as very accurate, and...
Published on February 20, 2010 by Mark Symns


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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Declining Production, Yet Plenty of Problems!, September 26, 2009
One of the ironies of oil-rich countries is that most are not rich, that their oil brings trouble rather than prosperity. Norway is THE outlier to this statement; other less dramatic exceptions are usually tiny nations with disproportionately large reserves - Kuwait, Brunei, and the United Arab Emirates.

Maass goes on to remind readers that world oil production is headed downhill. Most, if not all, OPEC members have exaggerated the size of their reserves to obtain the largest possible quota and revenue. Actual data is kept secret. Houston banker and oil professional Matthew Simmons, however, realized several years ago that credible data were in plain sight - papers presented at Society of Petroleum Engineers conferences. His meta-analysis (first published as "Twilight in the Desert") concluded that "Saudi Arabia clearly seems to be nearing or at its peak output." (Saudi Arabia has a claimed 264 billion barrels of oil reserves, almost 2X that of runner-up Iran; Alaska's ANWAR probably only has ten billion barrels).

Then its on to summaries of conditions in a variety of nations 'blessed' with some degree of oil riches. Equatorial Guinea, population 600,000 and reserves of several hundred million barrels, is first. The hospital Maass visited had no medicine, and there was no medical school to supply it with doctors. Despite billions in foreign investment, the local economy benefited little. For example, it's $1.5 billion natural gas facility was built by foreign workers living on site who sent their paychecks home. Even manual labor - digging ditches, etc., used flown-in foreign workers. Instead of buying cement from a local company that might not deliver on time, a small cement factory was built on site. Raw materials were imported. Prefab units housed the workers - no local material or workers were used. It also had its own phone system (Houston area code), power plant, and water purification and sewage systems. Most food was and still is imported for the plant workers.

Few households have running water or electricity, nearly half of children under 5 are malnourished. Meanwhile, the president, despite a $60,000/year salary, controlled about $700 million in deposits at Washington D.C.'s Riggs National Bank. (Royalty payments were made directly to these accounts in the president's name - akin to Americans remitting taxes to President Obama.)

Moving to Nigeria, the world's 8th largest oil exporter and home to 50 million, readers learn that it has earned $400 billion in recent decades, yet 20% of its children die before their 5th birthday and 90% of citizens live on less than $2/day. The World Bank estimates 80% of oil revenues have gone to 1% of the population. Much of the oil revenues that were not stolen were squandered - eg. the multi-billion dollar Ajaokart steel complex is idle and widely viewed as a total loss. Meanwhile, pollution has killed off most of the fish and harmed cropland in the delta where most of the oil is produced - leaving area residents poorer than before. Shell also has burned 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas at the site because it was the easiest and cheapest disposition - pouring carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air.

Saudi Arabia's leaders formerly led lives similar to that of its people, before oil revenues began. Now they have lavish jets and palaces, and make little effort to deny the widespread corruption. Some of the alienated (also upset over the introduction of western ways and workers) revolted in 1979; the output was an estimated $70 billion in oil revenues given to projects between '75-'02 that included construction and operation of mosques and Islamic study centers around the world.

About 30% of Saudi men are unemployed - too proud to take low-paying jobs filled by foreigners, and unable to qualify for good jobs because the nation's schools are third-rate. Unfortunately, the oil industry is not labor intensive - ARAMCO (the national oil concern) only has 50,000 employees in a nation of 20 million.

Maass' coverage of the U.S.S.R. and Russia explain why the former union collapsed - 80% of its revenues came from energy sales when President Reagan in 1985 convinced Saudi Arabia's King Fahd to increase production to benefit American drivers. CIA Director Casey separately reinforced the point with the King as a way to get at the godless Communists; the King also saw this as a way to get back at OPEC members exceeding their quotas. Thus, oil prices fell from $30/barrel to $12 just as Premier Gorbachev came to power. Maas suggests a possible repeat collapse of their economy under Putin, caused by the current oil price decline.

Venezuela has the world's 7th largest oil reserved. President Hugo Chavez, like Premier Putin, has used to revenues to boost the welfare of the nation's citizens. Unfortunately, he too is now laboring under the current oil price decline. Chavez originally became upset that the state-owned oil company (PDVSA) received more oil revenues (60%) than the Venezuelan government (40%). Chavez reversed that, and fired 18,000 managers and engineers when they protested. Clinics, schools, hemispheric aid, etc. have all benefited - however, Chavez has been unable to strengthen the overall economy - possibly because ot the 'Dutch Disease.' (The theory is that an increase in revenues from natural resources will deindustrialize a nation's economy by raising the exchange rate, which makes the manufacturing sector less competitive and entangles the public services with a priority of furthering business interests - named after the 1970-1980 reaction of the Dutch economy to the large influx of revenues from natural gas reserves.)

Bottom Line: Maass's book does a good job of explaining why oil riches are often not the blessing one would think. His recommendations ('Publish What You Pay' - bringing daylight to where the oil monies go), and getting off oil dependency are both good ones.
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77 of 93 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Read with a grain of salt., February 20, 2010
By 
Mark Symns "deepwater805" (Ventura, California United States) - See all my reviews
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As a drilling engineer, I have worked in many of the places described in this book, even been to some of the bars mentioned. For the record, Chin, the lady who owns the Shangrila bar in Malabo, is not Chinese, but Korean. Anyway, I find much of what Maass says about peak oil, falsifying reservoir figures, and outright bribing of government officials as very accurate, and coincides with what we in the industry already know. However, what I find unsettling is his tendency to tell many half truths with regard to many of the places he visited. These half truths can only be obvious to one who has been there, as I have, and tend to reduce his credibility in all his other points. For example: His description of Malabo and Bata, Equatorial Guinea was completely misleading, and borderline lies. Both of these small cities have reaped huge benefits from the growth caused by the oil industry. Maass presents them as receiving nothing, with the local people living in total destitution, standing on the sidelines while their corrupt president, and the big oil companies reap all the rewards with no regard for the local community. While some of that premise is true, the rest is not, and nothing could be further from the truth. I spent six years in EG, staging in and out of both Malabo, and Bata countless times. During the six years I was there, I saw tremendous growth. Not just presidential palaces, but a new airport, new soccer stadium, new apartment complexes for the locals, new roads, many other types of buildings, and businesses were built there and thrived. Local workers were used in all of the non-oil construction projects, of which there were many, and even on projects that were directly related to the oil companies. While he was correct in describing the major operators, Exxon/Mobil, Marathon, and Hess as living in gated compounds, apart from the local communities, there are thousands of expats in EG who do not. In order for any operator to work in any area of the world they must use the oil field service companies. Wherever you find the oil companies, you will also find the oil service companies. Always. These service companies run on a much smaller budget then the oil companies, and usually rent offices, warehouses, and staff houses that are well within the local communities. To say, as Maass does repeatedly, that the locals in EG did not benefit from the oil industries presence, is an out right lie. I spent much of my time on the offshore platforms, and can assure you that approximately 70% of the personnel on board every rig were made up of locals. All the oil service companies employ the vast majority of their workers from the local communities. Only the technical positions were filled with expats. This amounts to thousands of local workers who are directly employed by the oil industry, and thousands more indirectly employed by the support industries. He sites that all the food the oil companies eat is imported. This is because EG produces nothing. They never have and maybe they never will. It's not just the expats who eat the imported food stuffs, but also the locals. So his contention that the local population does not derive any benefit from the oil industry is, once again, an out right lie. I cannot dispute his contention that the EG president is not a crook. In fact this man is a total despot, but Maass's contention that there is no trickle down benefit is so misleading that it leads one to wonder what his motive really is. Is it to legitimately expose genuine wrongs, or is it to sensationalize his book in order to sell it. I could go on about his views in Nigeria, Baku, and other places, but this review shouldn't be a novel. My point is well made with the examples I've shown. Read this book with a grain of salt.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wakeup Call - If we're listening..., September 30, 2009
By 
J. Watts (Woodbridge, CT United States) - See all my reviews
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"We're addicted to oil," said George W. Bush, as though that was some kind of revelation. Well, it actually might be to most Americans. If asked, the majority of the public would probably say they only use oil to fuel their car or heat their home. In fact, oil is the essential ingredient in 100% of all our possessions, and most of our activities. No food is eaten without massive oil inputs. No iPods or flat screen TV's entertain us without oil to make them, deliver them, and fuel them. Even if we all biked to work, the roads themselves are made of oil.

If we actually stop to think about it, our oil need is beyond an addiction, for if the will is there, a junkie can be weaned from his fix. Oil is more like the water a fish swims in, so familiar and so necessary, it's not even noticed. Or, as Peter Maass says in his outstanding book Crude World, oil is oxygen.

In the U.S., we consume 21 million barrels of oil a day, but we produce only about 9 million. The rest comes from other countries - many of which are not our friends, and are not democracies. It is this foreign supply of our daily fix that gets the bulk of Maass's scrutiny, and it's an eye-opener, to say the least, because oil has a paradoxical way of making the people who live in most countries that export it poorer, not richer; the oil curse, as it's called.

With their slick corporate PR campaigns (BP - "Beyond Petroleum") and unlimited lobbying budgets, the oil companies are able to project a high-tech, consumer-friendly image as benign providers of clean energy. That may be mostly true in the United States, with its advanced legal, political, and regulatory system. But what happens to these ostensibly fine corporate citizens when they can extract oil in poor third world countries? Here Peter Maass blows the lid off their carefully contrived corporate image, with intimate and devastating personal portraits of exploitation in action. Maass blithely walks into the most dangerous civil wars, jungles, and guerrilla training camps to show countries like Equatorial Guinea, where a tiny fraction of the population aligned with the brutal dictator Teodoro Obiang skim virtually the entire gross revenues of the country, while the remaining people live in filth. To ensure their continued access to the country's riches, ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Chevron, and others treat Obiang as a valued friend and enlightened leader. U.S. officials like Condoleeza Rice treat him as a confidante, and our own banks help him launder his plundered wealth.

And that's only one story. Maass takes us around the world as the story changes and fascinates, but the conclusions are the same. Crude World is a cook's tour of the devil's kitchen, and is too riveting to put down. Every American should read it, and know where his daily fix really comes from. We can't get off of oil today, but we might just move a little bit faster if we think about how many people have to starve for us to fill our SUV's.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite as advertised, January 10, 2010
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This review is from: Crude World (Kindle Edition)
I am giving this book 3 stars because I'm not sure how to rate it.

On its own, it's a very well written book. It illuminates the uninitiated regarding the "human" cost of oil extraction in politically unstable regions around the world. It's a fascinating account, truly. That said, it covers the fundamental scarcity issue very vaguely and very superficially. Total pages dedicated to the discussion of peak oil, reserves, alternative fuels, etc, I estimate to be 3 or 4. This bothers me, since I originally thought it was primarily about peak oil and scarcity.

Any book with a subtitle suggesting the twilight of oil, ought to discuss the actual twilight of oil - not the political and humanitarian aspects. It needs a much more accurate subtitle.

The fact remains, however, that it's well written and very interesting. Just not in the way some of us expect it to be.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into politics and corruption, June 16, 2010
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the connections between oil, economic development and political realities. Peter Maass (brother of my father's friend) has reported on oil issues from over 15 countries, and this book is a brilliant summary (in 230 pages!) of his nearly 30 years of experience reporting on war, oil and corruption.

The book begins with a vivid image from the early days in the occupation of Baghdad, when American soldiers protected Iraq's Ministry of Oil and let looters invade the National Museum. Maass then makes his key observation: It's not as simple as that.

In the next chapters, Maass explores ten different themes:

1. Scarcity: Saudi Arabia, peak oil, and the need for the Saudis to maintain the image of limitless supply, even as it's falling.
2. Plunder: Equitorial Guinea, where the president/dictator steals his people blind, with the help and encouragement of US banks and oil companies. (Theft occurs in three ways: bribes to give access to oil, skimming oil royalties, and profits from businesses that serve oil companies.)
3. Rot: Nigeria, where the local people grow poorer as oil is pumped from under their land. Shell Oil leaves a few token "developments," but these are often cruel jokes -- hospitals without staff or medicines or generators without gasoline. There's also a strange dance between rebels and the government/Shell. Rebels steal oil to sell, and the government lets them ship it out. Why? It's a cheap pay off, to let the rest of the oil go by free.
4. Contamination: Ecuador and Texaco's terrible environmental damage. As with Equatorial Guinea, this country was naive with oil firms, so they got the worst cut of royalties and the cheapest extraction technology, which meant gas flares and oil spills. The government was no better when they took over, but they probably did not make a conscious choice to use that technology.
5. Fear: Azerbaijan and the culture of abuse among oil executives. Maass cites Milgorm's 1960s experiment, where students were happy to torture others, as long as an authority figure told them it was ok. This same "passing the buck" psychology allows oilmen to abuse oil sources to get a few pennies more profit. See previous post here.
6. Greed: Texas isn't even protected from its own oil companies when they can make a quick buck. More on oil companies desire to cut corners and a prescient (or perhaps trend-spotting) take on a series of stupid moves by BP, each of them resulting from an emphasis on short term profits, and each of them resulting in long term damage and death. The Deepwater Horizon Spill was no accident.
7. Desire: Iraq and America's desire for their oil. Except that the US was incompetent at taking it over. And the American goal of democracy flies in the face of conventional wisdom -- friendly dictators are much easier partners in the oil business. Maass concludes that Iraq's oil was important, but other goals also mattered.
8. Alienation: How Saudi oil money has poisoned its people, and how its youth prefer jihad to a life of unemployment or senseless paper pushing.
9. Empire: Putin is using Russia's oil to rebuild Soviet power, but low prices now will reveal the Emperor's new clothes, as they did to Gorbachev in the 80s. See previous post here.
10. Mirage: Chavez wants Venezuela's oil to help its people, but subsidies cannot be endless, and they will end when his national oil company flounders under the strain of delivering so many social services.

Maass concludes with a note of hope, hoping that we can use the tools we already possess -- transparency of royalty payments, anti-corruption laws and good old-fashioned social values -- to lighten up the dark side of oil. Oil may have peaked, but its damage will continue until we choose otherwise. (I have just started The Moral Sense. Stay tuned.)

Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE stars for its well-written, wide-reaching and deep discussion of the social, economic and political dimensions of oil.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dictators and the Oil They Steal, December 12, 2009
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Are there better ways to meet our energy needs than the ever more frantic search for the world's rapidly decreasing oil reserves? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is both "yes" and "no" because, while there certainly are cleaner ways to generate the energy that makes the world go around, the transition from oil to those cleaner sources might just bankrupt the planet during the transition process.

In "Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil," Peter Maass explains the impact of our oil addiction on those supposedly lucky countries having enough oil to export it to the rest of us. Most of the world's remaining oil reserves will be discovered in, and exported from, third world countries. Unfortunately, the governments of those countries are most often manned by thugs and thieves who claim the oil riches for themselves and their families. These criminals might be quick to loot their country's oil reserves but they are slow to plow any of the oil proceeds back into the country's infrastructure in ways that would improve the lives of their fellow citizens.

Peter Maass devotes chapters to Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Ecuador, Russia, Iraq and Venezuela. Maass finds that these countries have one thing in common other than their vast supplies of crude oil. Each of them suffers from the "resource curse," which states that countries whose economies are too closely tied to the exportation of a natural resource, such as oil, are doomed to "lower growth, higher corruption, less freedom and more warfare." Doubters only need review the list of countries at the beginning of this paragraph to judge the accuracy of this "curse."

Maass effectively argues that none of the petty dictators, thieves and kings could have looted their countries on their own. Without the enablement of Big Oil, it simply could not have happened. Oil companies have always shown a willingness to work with anyone able to guarantee them the contracts needed to extract oil, turning a blind eye to what happens in the producing country despite the billions of dollars the companies pump into government hands. Seeking an edge, oil companies have been known to bribe government officials with huge amounts of cash, high-paying "consulting" jobs, building rents, and "charities." "Whatever it takes" seems to be the motto of many who spend their lives in search of the next huge oil field.

But all of this is overshadowed by the brutal wars fought by consuming nations to gain or guarantee access to the steady supply of reasonably priced crude oil so critical to the world's economy. While Maass admits that the United States invaded Iraq for reasons in addition to oil acquisition, he correctly points out that the protection and control of Iraq's oil fields quickly became a top priority of America's occupying forces. Keeping the huge Iraqi oil reserves in friendly hands, even if not directly in the hands of American oil companies, clearly impacts America's national security. Because the job of America's military is to protect the country's national security, and because every other major power feels the same way, fighting over the oil of producing countries is not likely to end before the oil runs dry.

The picture Peter Maass paints might not be pretty, but it is realistic. He knows that the world's dependence on petroleum is likely to last another several decades but he urges us to make oil's twilight as "short as possible." Sadly, until reasonable alternatives to oil are found, we remain "complicit in the forms of violence - physical, environmental and cultural - that are the consequences of its extraction."

(I write this as someone who has worked in the oil industry, and in several different oil producing countries, for the last 37 years.)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new, May 19, 2010
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This book reads more like a travelogue. The descriptions of places and people are interesting, but the details of the oil industry are not particularly shocking. The author seems unable to get interviews with relevant people in the industry and as a result, most of the book reads like a summary of many newspaper articles. The writing is simplistic as is the handling of many complex issues. I get the feeling that anyone who traveled to these places and read some general oil case studies could have written this book. The author does not reveal anything new and does not provide any novel solutions to dealing with the oil industry's problems.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black Plague: the Enemy is Us, June 14, 2010
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Oil seems to be bad news. The BP Deep Horizon disaster is a timely illustration of the point: the company, with cavalier disregard of safety issues lobbied strenuously against a variety of blowout containment measures. BP has a long record of disregard for facilities maintenance. BP has had several fatal disasters. BP has a dismal environmental record. BP is unlikely to clean up the mess in the Gulf of Mexico and has consistently and deliberately underestimated the extent of the damage. BP probably will not compensate the fisheries industry, tourism, homeowners and others for their losses assuming irreparable damage to the ecosystem and the Gulf economy has not already occurred. BP is emblematic of the problems inherent in the extraction and marketing of petroleum products and journalist Peter Maas very compellingly and cogently addresses the entire sorry mess in this book.

"Crude World" is not intended to be a comprehensive history of the petroleum industry and its captains: "The Prize" by Peter Yergin best fills that role. Instead, it is a trenchantly argued polemic and indictment: witness the chapter titles ("Scarcity", "Plunder", "Rot", "Contamination", "Fear", "Greed", "Desire", "Alienation", "Empire", "Mirage"). Maas uses copious examples which illustrate the book's premise. The author adroitly places editorial commentary to illustrate the facts which are seemingly self-evident.

Maas argues that petroleum corrupts and defiles the countries from which it is extracted. For example, he asserts that the government of Equatorial Guinea, with its inherent corruption and maniacal violence has been materially worsened by the presence of copious amounts of petroleum and the oceans of cash that it has garnered. He further claims that the brutality, inefficiency, avarice, disregard for the welfare of the population and the environment are all further exacerbated by petroleum-related wealth regardless of the country of origin, with the apparent exceptions of the UK and Norway. While Maas is doubtlessly correct in that assertion (witness the corruption and coziness between governments in the "developed countries" like the U.S. and major oil companies), he tacitly notes that its human nature to serve one's self-interest first: his explanation for the Norwegian phenomenon is that Norway is an advanced democracy. It seems to me that, were the principals of good government and rule of law already part of the social compact, petroleum would advance rather than retard development in other countries, as well. Prior to the discovery of oil, Norway already had a diversified economy and an intelligent, well-educated and cohesive electorate. Other countries., in contradistinction, repeatedly fall prey to oil company machinations. Perhaps it is because most lack a diversified economy, many have ideologically motivated governments and fearful, atomized populations. So, oil lubricates not only machinery, but corruption and other bad traits, as well. Not terribly surprising.

There are other looming problems for a fossil-fuel dependent world. In general, oil is located in ever more remote and inaccessible regions. Of equal importance, it seems to be concentrated in politically unstable areas. Alternative fossil-fuel sources (coal, oil shale, tar sands) are environmentally devastating, both in their extraction and in their combustion byproducts. Climate change is upon us and, at this stage can hardly be reversed. So, what does Maas advocate? Promotion of "social values", "Publish What You Pay" (transparency in government and corporations), enforcement of current laws are some proposed solutions. Education and incentives for developing alternatives are others.

Maas draws appropriate attention to the fact that petroleum extraction, while it provides money does not provide many jobs nor does it serve as an adequate basis for a self-sustaining economy. Witness, for example, the economic dead zone that exists in Iran and Saudi Arabia: minus petroleum revenue, there isn't much there. Maas also notes (but does not concentrate on) the environmental depredation caused by oil drilling, citing, for example, the debacle caused by Chevron in South America. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, when Chevron departed, the Equadoran national petroleum company simply perpetuated and ignored the matter.

In "Crude World", Maas makes a compelling and readable argument against the petroleum industry and its "Black Plaque". I see the matter somewhat differently: rather than creating a dichotomy ("us vs. them"), the problems associated with oil are more like Walt Kelly in "Pogo" characterized it: "We have met the enemy and he is us". Its time to do something. Maybe reading this book will help convince the "unconverted".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real price of oil is even higher than you may have suspected...., January 2, 2010
Peter Maass's survey of the world that crude oil has created in the countries that are rich in this resources is the product of the best kind of investigative journalism: the kind that digs deeply into an issue and produces a timely and shocking story. "We may wish to forget about oil," Maass writes, "but oil will not let us." And while we in the West have made ourselves hostage to oil as part of the development of modern consumer-oriented society, the countries that produce it are paying a different and still higher price: chaos, warfare, corruption, torture, environmental degradation, the abuse of human rights. Worst of all, they are doing it to satisfy our own need to consume that oil.

Maass travels through Guinea (one of the most under-reported African nations of all, and one from which is ejected after only two weeks of reporting) and Nigeria to look at the political consequences of oil 'ownership' in Africa; he examines environmental issues in Ecuador where a lack of environmental regulations enabled the industry to ignore leaking crude oil pipelines for decades; and at the heart of this book is the Iraqi conflict, which he covered as a reporter for the New York Times Magazine. Just as he carefully explores the manifold ways in which crude oil -- resources that should have been a valuable national asset, bringing prosperity -- proves far more of a curse than a blessing. There are few people he doesn't talk to an effort to shed light on this paradox -- oilmen themselves, revolutionary leaders and warlords, geologists and sheikhs -- and there are no easy or obvious answers. But that's not the point of this book, which aims to get us to recognize what is done and the price that is paid by others for the oil we consume without a thought. Just as the refining process transforms crude into gasoline, the "clear fluid without which our civilization would collapse", so "a corollary process of political refining occurs to sanitize the truth of what's being done to keep oil in the hands of friendly governments."

If Daniel Yergin's survey of the oil industry, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, is the definitive look at the business of oil, this book could well become the definitive survey of what oil's importance has meant to the world. Our prosperity has been built on oil; oil has been the ruin of millions of others. Maass's recommendations are basic and straightforward -- such as introducing transparency to oil contracts in such a way that corruption becomes impossible to mask -- but are likely to harder to implement than to propose, as Maass does indirectly knowledge in noting theh willingness (even eagerness) of Chinese companies to do business with regimes that North American and European can't or won't work with to obtain oil.

This is a fascinating and impeccably-written book; perhaps its only flaw is the fact that Maass doesn't explain why the possession of crude oil hasn't been as toxic to countries like Norway, Canada or the United States. Does oil only corrupt those states that are fragile, or where democratic rule and the rule of law hasn't been established? And is that true of other strategic resources?

Still, that's a minor quibble. This is an excellent book; highly recommended to anyone struggling with the argument that oil is the reason behind all America's foreign policy misadventures, in large part because Maass focuses on what he sees and hears with his own eyes and steers clear of anyone spouting slogans.

4.5 stars, rounded up.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do mighty American Presidents kiss up to the Saudis?, October 24, 2009
Whether it is Bush holding the Saudi King's hand or Obama bowing to him, American Presidents kiss up to the Saudis. While this may puzzle many citizens, this book will go a long way explaining this flattery. Peter Maass does an outstanding job explaining how oil affects the lives of virtually everyone in the world. He tells the story of the oil (that is usually cheaper than bottled water in the US) that flows to the world. Maass has done a great service by visiting some of the most exotic and corrupt countries in the world. Crude World makes readers understand the political corruption and the paradoxically poor economies of oil exporters. Every oil consumer in the world (which is practically everyone) will gain great appreciation of what is involved in extracting and bring oil to the market.

Western governments, particularly the US, shelters its citizens from some of the unpleasant truths of its oil addiction. When it comes to Iraq, to give its citizens a fuzzy warm feeling, both Bushes portrayed their Iraq wars as a war not about oil but WMDs or freedom. It does not take much thought to see the hypocrisy. Saudi Arabia is hardly a model for freedom and human rights. Furthermore Saudi oil money is responsible directly and indirectly for more acts of terrorism than any other country's money. How many 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia? How many from the two axis of evils, Iraq and Iran? Bush chose to talk about Saddam's use of biological weapons about 18 years after their use. Chavez directly insults Bush and yet gets ignored. What is great about Crude World is that it treats Americans like adults. Whether it is about our huge national debt or unpleasant wars, politicians have to think about elections and cannot be totally honest and that is why we need journalists like Mr. Maass to enlighten us.

Many may criticize this book as being too liberal and one sided. I personally wished that Maass had written more about some successful oil exporters such as Norway and Canada. What makes these countries overcome the resource curse while others suffer? There are also very few interviews with oil executives (I suspect that few volunteered to be interviewed by Mr. Maass). Maybe Maass does not give the other side enough voice but there is still so much valuable insight here that readers should not miss it. Besides its educational value, Maass also is an excellent story teller and great writer. Highly recommended. I am not a generous Amazon rater either.
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Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil
Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass (Paperback - August 10, 2010)
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