298 of 335 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2011
Writing massive 700 page historical epics is never an easy task. It requires deep research, broad vision, and great intellectual fortitude. Daniel Yergin demonstrated all of these in his first book, the classic Pulitzer Prize winner, The Prize. Although The Quest is an informative book in its own right, I came away disappointed with some aspects of it. The publishers billed The Quest as the sequel to The Prize. In the first part of the book, Yergin does try to pick up with the grand historical narrative that he left off twenty years ago. This is probably the most successful part of the book. But after devoting roughly 200 pages to this effort, The Quest turns into a series of long vignettes covering topics that Yergin, despite his formidable expertise, never manages to quite tie together.
The five subsequent parts cover: energy security and the future of oil supply, the development and evolution of electric power, the study of climate change and its relationship to energy, the emergence of new energies and renewables, and transportation and the automobile. To say these parts of the book are informative would be an understatement. Yergin has a unique expertise on this topic that few other scholars can match. But in The Quest Yergin can't seem to muster the vision and artistry to unite his coverage of these issues into a more meaningful whole.
Politically, The Quest is a very cautious book. At times, Yergin verges on becoming a lackey for the big oil companies with which he has likely developed ties as the director of a respected energy consulting firm. He tends to be far more critical of those who have challenged big oil than he is of BP, Exxon and the other corporate goliaths that dominate the industry. He is particularly dismissive of "peak oil" theory, whose leading exponent, Marrion Hubbert, he views as the latest in a long line of wrong-headed thinkers who have predicted that energy supplies would run out. Yet the verdict is still out on this issue. Yergin has proven wrong in the past when he predicted that oil prices would drop. And critics have pointed out that even if oil production has not peaked, it is possible that oil exports have. Thus the West will still be faced with a shortage.
While fiercely criticizing Hubbert and other opponents of big oil, Yergin does not really use his own contacts in the energy industry to tell us very much about what has been going on inside the individual companies. The BP oil spill and the Enron scandal, two events which critics of the industry would doubtless see as germane here are given scant attention. Even the 5 star reviews of this book on Amazon acknowledge Yergin's failure on this point as does Fareed Zakaria's review in the New York Times. This failure may not bother all readers but I personally believe that scholars have an obligation to speak truth to power. Yergin was in a position to do this but, in the end, he did not.
The research for The Quest can be quite thin in places. There are fewer footnotes than one would expect from a 700 page book and many of the sources cited are newspaper articles and secondary source materials. To be fair, there were probably not many archival materials that Yergin could have used for a book on such a recent topic. And Yergin does seem to have conducted interviews with some relevant people in the industry. But he doesn't uncover a lot of new sources or introduce us to any exciting new revelations.
Stylistically, The Quest is a bit choppy in its exposition. Each of the chapters is divided into sections, which are sometimes as short as one paragraph. Again, this gives the book more of a report like feel than the novelistic feel that contributes so greatly to the success of The Prize. Yergin's prose gets his points across simply and effectively but not very elegantly. And elegance would be nice given the amount of time reading this book demands.
Despite my criticisms, Yergin's book may still be worth reading for those with a deep interest in the field. The author remains one of the foremost experts on the subject in the country. Ultimately, however, I cannot help but feel that The Quest could have been much more if the author had been more daring and paid greater attention to research and writing.
154 of 186 people found the following review helpful
We all live fast paced and complex lives. If you are a reader then the key choice you must master is what to read. There is simply too much out there, and you cannot absorb it all. Every now and then a book comes along which is the equivalent of a precious diamond. It is so full of information, presented in such an interesting way that you can't bring yourself to put it down. You couple this characteristic with an author who is a major thinker and what you have when you put it all together is a 1 in a 100 type book. This is a book that changes everything we know about energy.
This is Daniel Yergin
Daniel Yergin is such an author, and this is such a book. It has now been two decades since the he turned the world upside down with his Pulitzer Prize winning "The Prize - The Epic Quest for Oil". To have read it is to understand the world. Its monumental impact affected our economy and Wall Street. In the last few years it became apparent that The Prize needed a badly needed update, not just a chapter added. Instead of completely revamping The Prize, Yergin did one better, he chose to write on the world of energy in general and then incorporate revisions from his previous writings which were necessary. This brings us to "The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World".
We live in world that currently creates $65 trillion per year in gross production of goods and services. Our country does close to $15 trillion of this production, while Europe as a whole does slightly more. Within 20 years the world is expected to produce $130 trillion, that's a doubling in just 2 decades. Now here's the problem as laid out in the book. Yergin clearly spells out that in the developed world today we use about 14 barrels of oil per person per year. In the developing countries we use about 3 barrels per person per year. What are we going to do when gross world production goes from $65 trillion to $130 trillion; energy needs must expand along with economic production?
Oil, coal, and natural gas currently provide 80% of the world's energy needs. It is the thesis of the book that these three sources of energy combined, cannot suffice to answer our energy needs. Yes there is more of each of these sources than previously thought available. As an example, today we produce 5 times the amount of oil than we did in 1957, a remarkable increase, but what is coming down the pike is a need to expand energy to extraordinary levels.
The Book's Organization
This is a relatively long book composed of 711 pages of narrative without a boring sentence in the entire book. It reads fast in spite of its length. There are 16 pages of bibliography and this bibliography is a useful one if you want to explore this topic further. You will then find 34 pages of footnotes, and I like the footnotes being in the back of the book in this case, as opposed to the end of the chapters as you see in other books. Yergin has given us six parts to ponder in this story of how we will solve our energy problems.
PART I - The New World of Oil
It is in this chapter that the author covers the return of Russia as an energy power. The world is a changing place and Russia has become an energy powerhouse with its abundant oil and gas resources. Yergin also covers the war in Iraq and the rise of China in this part. China's needs will eclipse our own as their economy continues to rapidly expand. The beauty of a book like this is that you are not only learning about the energy world, but the world in general. It is a fascinating journey as we find out about the emerging superpowers and whether or not America can continue to hold onto economic dominance in a rapidly changing world.
PART II - Securing the Supply
There's more than one reason why America spends close to $800 billion on defense spending. You have to keep the sea lanes safe for oil and energy transport. Without world trade, America would rapidly sink into a depression since international trade makes up 25% of our Gross Domestic product. In this section the author gives you a thorough survey of what it means to run out of energy including oil and natural gas.
PART III - The ELECTRIC Age
The book makes clear that we may be living in the post industrial age, or the information society, but in terms of energy we are still living in the OBSOLETE Fossil Age, and it has to change. The Electric age is coming to an end, and in this section Yergin tells us the pros and cons of what is coming. You are not getting theories from talking heads. This is the preeminent expert on oil and energy in the world today. Corporations and governments pay a fortune to consult with the author with regard to what he thinks is coming next.
PART IV - Climate and Carbon
Is there glacial change? Is the earth getting warmer? What is the effect of climate change on man's need for more energy? Where will it come from and can we afford it? Is the internal combustion engine now more than a century old reaching the end of its operational efficiency? Must we go another way? The average SUV weighs 5000 pounds and is being driven around town half the time by soccer moms driving alone? How much longer can we keep the whole process going, and is it changing right before our eyes?
PART V - New Energies
Yes, there are new sources of energy coming. We are going to see wind turbines everywhere, but there is also a 5th source of energy coming. Perhaps it is already here and that is EFFICIENCY. We must get more out of the energy we already have. When Exxon moves oil crude from a pipeline to tanker there is less than one teaspoon of oil that is lost in the process. We must become more efficient as a society and as a world, and we must close the conservation gap, which we haven't even begun to tackle yet.
PART VI - Road to the Future
How interesting that in the last part of this book the author chooses to deal with what he calls carbohydrate man, and the great electric car experiment. Would you believe that only about 20% of the energy that comes out of the internal combustion engine is efficiently used in the running of a car. The rest comes out of the muffler into the air as heat and lost energy. With electric cars, the efficiency approaches 85%? Batteries are still too heavy however, and they do not last as long as they should. We haven't even discussed how costly they are to replace. Nevertheless, the electric car is in our future, and this book tells you the whole story.
You are going to love this book, all 700 plus pages of it. Nobody tells a more exciting story than Daniel Yergin. To win a Pulitzer Prize you must grip the reader's attention and never let go from beginning to end, and that is precisely what we have here. It is a non-fiction book that reads like a spy thriller and a reader can't expect more from a book, especially one on the topic of energy.
I urge you to read anything this man writes. It is rare that Yergin publishes and everything he says has power and relevance attached to it. My only reading wish is to find more books in the same class as "The Quest". Such books are rare unfortunately, and when you find them, we have to let our friends and other readers know. I thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck
55 of 67 people found the following review helpful
The Quest" is an 804-page up-to-date sequel to energy-consultant Yergin's earlier best-selling, Pulitzer winning "The Prize." Topics covered include the Soviet Union's breakup, Japan's recent earthquake and tsunami, major mergers in the oil industry, Iraq War II, China's growth in energy demand, peak oil, a nuclear Iran, the 'Dutch disease, and how energy production and distribution is vulnerable to cyber warfare. Yergin also criticizes California's deregulation of electricity that created shortages, and Marion Hubbert for his 'peak-oil' theorizing.
A side benefit of "The Quest" is that it also provides important insights on related issues. For example, readers learn that the Arab oil embargo and 1973 October War helped sustain the Soviet Union via their associated quadrupling of oil prices - Russia's main source of hard currency. (Prior to the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, it was the world's #1 oil producer; it now has returned to that position.) At the time of the breakup they were having difficulty even feeding children in major cities - thus, the popular story that it was Reagan's defense buildup that broke their economic back (denied by Gorbachev) probably isn't true. Regardless, such heavy reliance on natural resources probably also 'infected' the Soviets then (Russia today) with the so-called 'Dutch disease' in which other economic areas remain weak and undeveloped. Yergin also illustrates how the Dutch disease infected Nigeria and Venezuela as well. Conversely, China had no such richness of natural resources, and that probably helped push it towards the broad range of competencies it has achieved. One also learns important details of how the Russian oligarchs came about, and the subsequent feuding of some with Putin that led to their downfall. Readers also learn that early users of solar photovoltaics were indoor marijuana growers trying to hide their heavy electricity use, and receive a short compendium of major mistakes made on both sides prior to and after initial Iraq War II combat.
The 'bad news' about Yergin's book is that it sometimes leaves out important and interesting details, and superficially treats global warming, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources.
36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2011
As an author, Daniel Yergin is best known for his authorship of The Prize, a Pulitzer Prize-winning tome on the origins and development of the international oil sector. In the energy industry, Yergin is also famous as the founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) -- a well-respected energy research consultancy now owned by IHS. For The Quest, Yergin has parlayed his skills as a writer/researcher and the access of an industry luminary into a sweeping and comprehensive guide to the energy world of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The Quest is written in five sections. They cover oil, energy security, electricity, climate change, renewable energy and transportation -- particularly the electric car. Yergin couches the development of the industry in his distinctive voice and seduces the reader with piquant portraits of the personalities and turning points that have defined the energy world. For those that know Yergin as an "oil man," the passion with which he relates his history of the science, politics and policy of climate change may come as a surprise.
Indeed, no other author has demonstrated such an ability to vivify the topic of energy. Yergin has turned CERA, Washington DC, and the entire energy sector into his own personal data mine. His myriad interviews pepper The Quest with insider perspective of industrial consortiums, environmental NGOs, international oil companies, the US military, and numerous presidential administrations.
The graphics, maps and photo sections are also excellent and informative.
On the down side, Yergin is excessively polite in his treatment of oil companies, dictators and energy traders. He reliably shies away from naming and shaming environmental polluters, corporate raiders, authoritarians, and oil barons. The scope of the book means that these narratives come in the form of "mini histories" -- rather than a grand, sweeping, linear narrative.
Still, the Quest is a remarkable achievement. It is balanced, current, comprehensive and an excellent read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2011
Reads like a novel - 4 stars
"The Quest" follows up on Daniel Yergin's other great book "The Prize" (Pulitzer Prize 1992). "The Prize" covers the history of the global oil industry until the 1990s. "The Quest" picks up where "The Prize" left and continues the narrative until 2011. Moreover, "The Quest" broadens the scope by covering other major topics such as electric power generation and climate change. The breath of topics addressed results in a masterpiece that is over 700 pages long.
"The Quest" is a fabulous read. Dan Yergin's strength lies in his story telling ability. Find out why Vladimir Putin jailed the CEO of Yukos. Discover the role of Admiral Rickover in pioneering nuclear energy in the US. Read about the influence of Einstein on the development of solar panels. Find out what Thomas Edison told Henry Ford about electric vehicles.
The book has six parts but can really be divided into three sections:
1. Part I & II: The global oil & gas industry from 1990s to 2011. best part)
2. Part III & IV: Electric power generation and climate change.
3. Part V & VI: Renewable energies and electric cars.
The strength of this book lies in the author's ability to explain the world of energy from a historical and geopolitical perspective. Energy security is discussed within the context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Arab Spring revolutions. Nuclear energy is put into perspective by the Fukushima nuclear incident. In many cases, the author demonstrates how expensive and challenging it is to find solutions in the energy world. "The Quest", as the title suggests, is a book about the human endeavor to find solutions to the energy challenges.
The book does have its shortcomings. The author goes out of his way to marginalize scientist Marion Hubbert and gives a flawed description of the Peak Oil theory. However, he does not provide a quantitative discussion of whether yes or no we are going to run out of cheap oil. The general feeling throughout the book is that there is plenty of oil left and new technologies will always allow us to access them. Many experts would disagree. History will tell whether this is actually the case.
My last word is a word of caution about the author. Despite being a great writer, Daniel Yergin has a sad track record at predicting oil prices. His track record over a decade has been archived in this link and it does not look pretty: [...]
To learn more about sustainable energy from a scientist's perspective, read "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air" by David J. C. MacKay
To get a closer look at the oil industry and oil trading, read "Oil: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century" by Tom Bower.
To learn more about the Peak Oil theory, read "Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage" by Kenneth S. Deffeyes
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2011
Modern energy. It is a force so fundamental to our daily existence, and yet we rarely think about it. In fact, for most, the only time the subject pops into our heads is when we fill-up our gas tanks, but the world of energy is much more vast and complex than what happens at the gas tank. It dictates everything from political policy to PCs and everything in between, and finally, there is an excellent source to teach everyone from a curious high-school student, to an experienced engineer almost everything they should know about how we fuel our way of life.
The Quest, by Daniel Yergin is a mind-bogglingly comprehensive study of the energy industry today. The book is long and winding, with thrills and facts, brilliant profiles, and 717 pages of extremely pertinent knowledge. Though long, the content is--for the most part--extremely readable, enjoyable really, and finishing it is not the chore one might expect from such a large seemingly technical book.
Yergin, is the preeminent authority on the energy industry, and--in the spirit of full disclosure--the chairman on the energy consulting firm IHS CERA. It has been argued that Yergin's "day job" has gotten in the way of objective argument, but from what I have read--which at this point is not yet the full book--there is little in the way of argument in the book whatsoever. Instead Yergin presents the facts, clean, but not cold. His book The Prize (for which he won the Pulitzer) was published in 1992. Released on the coattails of the United States' first invasion of Iraq, the book made waves for its relevance, yes, but also for the scope and fluidity of thought it displayed.
Once again, Yergin's work is breathtakingly current--the Introduction documents the concurrent events of this year's Arab Spring and the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in Japan. But Yergin's best quality as a writer is that where simply see statistics, Yergin sees stories. His familiarity with the personalities in his pages allows the reader to sink into history. The book is packed with intriguing facts--the technology behind LNG was first utilized in the refrigeration of beer--striking profiles--like that of the surly yet brilliant General Hyman Rickover--and the narrative form that transforms readers to fans. You can feel the anxiety of Einstein's father as he watched his brilliant son waste time, talent, and money while unemployed. Yergin then, walks us through the science of his paper on photovoltaics, and why we should care about it today.
It is the type of book that I would have adored as an undergraduate studying the History of Science and Technology, and that I now view as necessary reading for any informed adult. It is clean, comprehensive, and balanced. It is applicable to everyone who drives a car, turns on a light, is interested in world events, or who might buy a book off of Amazon.com. Energy is so fundamental to the way we live today, and Yergin answers the questions we have about it as well as the ones we weren't smart enough to think of in the first place.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2012
Some two centuries ago a profound economic shift upset the traditional relations of East and West. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, Western Europe and the United States began to overtake the great civilizations of China and India, the planet's wealthiest and most sophisticated societies throughout most of recorded history.
Now those two centuries of increasing imbalance are coming to an end, the result of the combined effects of five centuries of globalization beginning with Columbus; advances in transportation and communication in the 19th and 20th Centuries; the rapid spread of literacy, especially in the years following World War II; and major improvements in healthcare, which dramatically extended life expectancy across the globe. As the 21st Century continues to unfold, we may yet see today's wealthiest economies -- those of Europe and the United States -- fall behind the Asian giants, as they tap the potential of billions of increasingly healthy, well-educated citizens.
This tectonic shift in geopolitical relations lends great urgency to energy politics today. The rise of the East is as great a factor in the sourcing and distribution of energy resources as climate change. Both factors loom large in economic researcher Daniel Yergin's superb new book, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.
In 1991 Yergin published The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, which gained the #1 spot on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, won the Pulitzer Prize, and established his firm, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, as the country's most sought-after voice on energy issues. Two decades later, The Quest broadens and updates the earlier book, relating the monumental changes in energy markets wrought by technological innovation, historic geopolitical shifts, and our changing views of energy and climate.
"Three fundamental questions shape this narrative," Yergin writes in the introduction. "Will enough energy be available to meet the needs of a growing world, and at what cost, and with what technologies? How can the security of the energy system on which the world depends be protected? What will be the impact of environmental concerns, including climate change, on the future of energy -- and how will energy development affect the environment?"
Approaching the topic more specifically, he asks, "Will resources be adequate not only to fuel today's $65 trillion global economy but also to fuel what might be a $130 trillion economy in just two decades? To put it simply, will the oil resources be sufficient to go from a world of almost a billion automobiles to a world of more than two billion cars?" Later the author emphasizes the significance of this question: "Despite growth in emerging markets, one out of every nine barrels of oil used in the world every day is burned as motor fuel on American roads."
The Quest is a big book, gushing with information. Yergin surveys virtually every significant aspect of energy in today's world. He touches on every energy source, every significant energy-related technological development of recent decades, and every major location of energy resources, and he briefly relates the history of each element. For a nonspecialist, The Quest is an immersion course in the nature and politics of energy. It's fascinating.
Ever the dispassionate analyst, Yergin treats highly controversial issues with a simple, fact-based approach. However, despite its ill treatment by much of the oil industry, he takes on the issue of global climate change in detail and with dead seriousness, leaving little doubt that the more rational leaders in the energy sector have no question about the potential world-changing effects of rising global temperatures.
But Daniel Yergin is no pessimist. Tackling the issue of "peak oil," for example, he says, "the world is clearly not running out of oil. Far from it. The estimates for the world's total stock of oil keep growing."
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2013
I enjoyed "The Prize", so I was expecting more of the same. Yergin is a good writer and he tells a good story. Unfortunately in "The Quest", he has started to believe his own PR and has adopted the role of seer, which isn't something he's particularly good at. I have numerous issues with this book.
I have been involved in the energy industry since the late 1980s and used Yergin's consultancy, CERA. Judging from some of the reviews on the cover, there seems to be a view that Yergin is an energy guru. If that were only true. Like any good consultantcy, CERA obtains opinions from multiple sources, repackages the information and presents it as their own work. This can be helpful in understanding what the latest trends are. However it often promotes stategies which are misguided or just reinforces the prejudices of the herd.
CERA missed the whole shale gas revolution in the U.S., they kept promoting imported LNG, until they started to look ridiculous. Yergin was also a big supporter of Enron, with Jeff Skilling a regular star at their conferences. CERA failed to predict the whole energy trading meltdown. CERA receives most of its income from "Big Oil" so it has until recently had no real interest or expertise in renewables. This is illustrated by some of the silly comments about solar. Yergin obviously just spoke to people he knows in the U.S., mostly it seems at VC firms. VC firms made the mistake of investing over a $1 billion in Solyndra, their time in the solar industry has come and gone. It is now an industry driven by manufacturers, the Chinese have reduced the cost of a panel by 90% over the last 20 years.
Yergin is a follower not a leader, that is why he's a consultant. There are some interesting anecdotes but if you are looking for an intelligent book on the future of the energy industry you won't find it here.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2012
- Living in the post cold war world and experiencing the new normal after 9-11, as a nation we need to re-evaluate threats.
One area that leaves us wide open is Energy and how dependant the United States is to foreign sources. Daniel Yergin in his book The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World takes the reader on a good overview of the history, the present state, and future importance of energy. Yearin is Pulitzer Prize winning writer and has had a long time passion for this subject.
Yergin work puts the information in a concise form for any person to understand this very complex issue. The problems we face today are mostly man made and only man is innovative enough to discover away to break through the troubles.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2012
This remarkable book covers the whole subject of energy, its history, science, economics and politics. Yergin examines oil, coal, gas (both conventional and unconventional), nuclear power, climate change, the electric age, new energies, and roads to the future.
He notes, "In a carbon-conscious world, nuclear power's great advantages are not only the traditional ones of fuel diversification and self-sufficiency. It is also the only large-scale, well-established, broadly deployable source of electric generation currently available that is carbon free."
US nuclear plants require a licence from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate. These licences were originally granted for 40 years. In 1995 the end of the 40 years was coming into view for many plants. Without extensions, US nuclear supply would have shut down.
In the mid-1980s, the USA's nuclear plants worked at only about 55 per cent of their capacity. Now they work at more than 90 per cent of capacity.
Yergin points out, "The operating record of the nuclear industry had clearly improved, and substantially so. In fact, companies were coming to the commission to request permission for power upgrades, above what had been their maximum output, because of their increased efficiency. In support of license extension, the NRC launched a crucial new initiative to update the safety system that governed the industry, using new tools and capabilities." So the Commission extended licences for another 20 years.
Germany's nuclear plants supply a quarter of its electricity. In 2010 a new law extended their life by another 12 years.
By contrast, here in Britain, the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive will force the closure of 9.8 gigawatts of oil- and coal-fired generation - 12 per cent of our total capacity - by the end of 2013.
The fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, issued in 2007, said that the Himalayas' glaciers, including the Gangroti which feeds the river Ganges, would vanish by 2035, `if not sooner'. By contrast, India's Environment Ministry said that the Gangroti was `practically at a standstill'. It turned out that the 2035 date was from a 1999 phone interview with a scientist who later denied ever giving any date!
In 1979 President Carter forecast that 20 per cent of US energy would come from solar power by 2000. But by 2010, renewables accounted for just 8 per cent of US energy supply: 1.5 per cent from solar and wind, 6.5 per cent from hydropower and biomass.
The fifth fuel is often said to be energy efficiency. A fine example is Japan's 1998 Top Runner programme which finds the most efficient appliance of its kind, then requires that all such appliances exceed the efficiency of that `Top Runner' by a specified date - as a result, TV sets, for example, improved by 26 per cent between 1997 and 2003.
It is not always possible to be self-sufficient economically, particularly for energy sources, but it is possible to be independent, that is, as self-reliant as possible, dependent on no one supplier, by using a diversified range of sources - oil, gas, coal, renewables and nuclear.
To rebuild Britain, we need more R&D, consistent, long-term thinking planning and investment, and security and sustainability of energy.