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The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East Hardcover – August 9, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“The role of oil in the foreign policy of the United States is the subject of endless conspiracy theories. The reality is both more mundane and more startling than the conventional wisdom would have it. Andrew Cooper has lifted the lid from a crucial period of U.S. policy. Mining a rich lode of previously unreleased documents, Cooper uses the very words of the protagonists to tell a story so sensitive that it has remained virtually covert. In doing so, he sheds surprising new light on U.S.-Iranian relations and the origins of the Iranian revolution.”

—Gary Sick, author of All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran and former member of the National Security Council

"Adds significant insight to one of the most important periods in the American relationship with petroleum. . . . [The Oil Kings] excels by virtue of focus, discipline, and original research. Supporting his account, Cooper draws from significant sources – most of which were classified until recently – that re-create the personal relationships that proved crucial to world history."
—Brian Black, The Christian Science Monitor

"Relying on a rich cache of previously classified notes, transcripts, cables, policy briefs and memoranda, Cooper explains how oil drove, even corrupted, American foreign policy during a time when Cold War imperatives still applied. . . . The most compelling dimension to Cooper’s narrative is the story of U.S-Iran relations, particularly during the Nixon and Ford administrations. . . . A revelatory, impressive debut."
Kirkus Reviews

“As uprisings today rock the Muslim world, with America at war across the region, Andrew Cooper transports us back to where it all began: with the startling diplomatic and military machinations of the seventies, when oil first became a global weapon and the White House was roiled by Vietnam and Watergate. Meticulously researched, vividly told, with an inside-the-room intimacy, The Oil Kings reminds us of the ultimate folly of America’s efforts to dominate world events—especially through its co-dependency with rival petro-states. This is an important and powerful book.”

—Barry Werth, author of 31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today

"Scintillating diplomatic history. . . . Cooper gives a lucid analysis of shifting oil markets and unearths revelations . . . from meticulous research. . . . Its centerpiece is Cooper's superb, lacerating portrait of Henry Kissinger. As the super-diplomat's obsession with great-power rivalries founders in a new world of global economics that he can't fathom, Cooper gives us both a vivid study in sycophancy and backstabbing and a shrewd critique of Kissingerian geo-strategy."
--Publishers Weekly

“[Cooper] skillfully mines previously classified documents to make clear that high-profile inmates were running the foreign-policy asylum.”

—Paul Jablow, Philadelphia Inquirer

About the Author

Andrew Scott Cooper holds advanced degrees from Columbia University, University of Aberdeen, and Victoria University. Dr. Cooper has worked at the United Nations and Human Rights Watch and is a columnist for PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (August 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439155178
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439155172
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Snyder on September 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
No, seriously.

In this well-written, well-researched book about the Shah of Iran's attempts to make himself the new Cyrus, mixed with Richard Nixon's post-Vietnam search for agents of empire by extension and mixed with the Shah and King Faisal squaring off for oil hegemony, the "captain of the USS Titanic," steering the American economy for the iceberg of doing anything to help Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ... was Henry Kissinger.

This included him and Nixon writing a blank check to the Shah for unlimited arms deals, a blank check that Kissinger refused to tell either Ford or Carter about. (Kissinger refused interview requests for this book.)

Others were at fault, too. Nixon himself for writing that blank check, even if on Kissinger's advice. William Simon, for leaning too far the Saudis' way. Don Rumsfeld, whose arrogance 25 years ago under Ford was no less than under Bush.

But at the heart of it all was Henry Kissinger, enabling the Shah's every wrong-sized dream, while being ignorant of the inflation the Shah was inflicting on himself, and the wreckage he was inflicting on the United States, Western Europe and Japan, even while Henry claimed he knew more economics than most of Nixon's economics team.

The Shah might still be in power, or his son, rather, if we had reined him in. (Kissinger also missed the mullahs as the possible source of a revolution, seeing only Commies.) Energy shortages were happening before the first embargo of 1973, but might have been better managed to the benefit of the Shah, Faisal and other Arab oil states and the West, all alike. And, the Israel situation might have been better handled, too.

The book ends soon after Carter's accession, with Faisal dead and the Shah on his way. A sequel would be wonderful.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By billyspargo on September 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This concise, comprehensive, objective, documented (100 pages of notes) petropolitical economic and diplomatic military history answers that question; and it probaly isn't what you think. The story of the "largest transfer of wealth in history" has been 'slicked' over by the participants, most recently by Dick Cheney and most blantantly by Henry Kissinger. And let's not forget Mr. Nixon and the Rockerfellers (Nelson and Dave). Where did all those billions go? Military hardware and logistics got its fair share. And whose banks did the money flow through? Go back to the last name for one. These gentlemen made secret backdoor diplomacy an art form: The Shah being the protagonist (was he the first to urge us to 'go green'?). And then there's the Mexican banks, the CIA, SAVAK, CREEP, OPEC, CENCOM, IBEX and Watergate(!). This book, due in part to recently declassified documents, fills an important gap in American historical non-fiction. I'll emphasise that last word, because you couldn't make this stuff up; unfortunately for us watching those digits fly on the gas pumps.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Montz on September 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Andrew Scott Cooper's first book "Oil Kings" is surprising well written and entertaining. The book is primary about the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his dealings with President Richard Nixon and the duplicitous Henry Kissinger. The book centers around a secret deal between the Shah, Nixon, and Kissinger which allowed Iran to purchase best of class U.S. weapons systems, advance jet fighters, smart bombs, etc. in any quantity desired. Basically anything weapons short of nukes were available for purchase by the Shah. In return, the President would allow the Shah to raise oil prices through OPEC to cover the costs of the weapons. The U.S. was reeling from its involvement in Vietnam. The mood of the country was against any military action abroad. The country was being torn apart by protest and incidents such as the Kent State shootings still fresh in the minds of Americans. The Shah was ambitious and saw himself as the heir to the great Persian Kings of the ancient world. The Shah would use his newly acquired weaponry to protect the Persian Gulf and Israel from Soviet influence.

The first series of oil price increases implemented by OPEC shocked the economies of the west. The Shah waved aside any suggestion that the price increases were endangering the oil consuming nations especially the Europeans. The Shah was blinded by his grand vision of a modern westernized Iran. No one realized the Shah was racing against time after being diagnosed with cancer.

Watergate was a disaster for the U.S. - Iran relations. With the resignation of Nixon, the Shah lost his most powerful supporter in Washington. Kissinger was still Secretary of State but more and more Kissinger was finding himself on the losing side of the debate on U.S.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Abdulla M. Al Qasim on May 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What can I say? An absolutely riveting book that is hard to put down!!! The author does an amazing job of meticulously walking the reader step by step through history and highlighting how the power in the Middle East oil producing countries shifted from Iran to Saudi Arabia. The book is extremely well researched and the author's efforts and time are very obvious!

The book uses two primary focal points throughout the entire book to explain the events and they are the Shah of Iran and the American Government and uses Saudi Arabia as somewhat of a secondary focal point. As someone from the region I found the book greatly informative, despite the slightly westernized perspective on some issues such as King Faisal's stance on the oil embargo and his fears of other Arab leaders, these points are somewhat contestable. The Author states that it was Gadafi, Sadam, and others who forced King Faisal into the embargo, however i find this contradictory to the reseach of local writiers in the region where is more commonly accepted that King Faisal was at the forefront of the embargo. This aside, still a great book!

One point I have to raise that the author misstated, is the point that the Shah did in fact claim that Bahrain (an Arab state) was once part of Iran, and this did happen. However, there was a UN resolution that Bahrain is an Arab state and rejected Iran's claims. Iran's claims on Bahrain have been and are based on a document signed by a representative of the British crown centuries ago who was relieved from his post for signing that document without having the authority to do so on behalf of the corwn. This matter is clearly documented in another book entitled `The Pirate Coast' by Sir Charles Belgrave.

Other than that, the book is a truly fascinating and capturing read and is a must for anyone wishing to get a firm grip on the events of that period and some understanding of the effect of oil on economies and politics.
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