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The Secret World of Oil [Kindle Edition]

Ken Silverstein
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The oil industry provides the lifeblood of modern civilization, and bestselling books have been written about the industry and even individual companies in it, like ExxonMobil. But the modern oil industry is an amazingly shady meeting ground of fixers, gangsters, dictators, competing governments, and multinational corporations, and until now, no book has set out to tell the story of this largely hidden world.

The global fleet of some 11,000 tankers—that's tripled during the past decade—moves approximately 2 billion metric tons of oil annually. And every stage of the route, from discovery to consumption, is tainted by corruption and violence, even if little of that is visible to the public.

Based on trips to New York, Washington, Houston, London, Paris, Geneva, Phnom Penh, Dakar, Lagos, Baku, and Moscow, among other far-flung locals, The Secret World of Oil includes up-close portraits of a shadowy Baku-based trader; a high-flying London fixer; and an oil dictator's playboy son who has to choose one of his eleven luxury vehicles when he heads out to party in Los Angeles. Supported by funding from the prestigious Open Society, this is both an entertaining global travelogue and a major work of investigative reporting.

Editorial Reviews


"Ken Silverstein is one of the best investigative journalists of his generation--or any generation. His latest book, "The Secret World of Oil," is a masterpiece of revelation. With a deft combination of detail and color, Silverstein exposes the darkest shade of crude: the fixers and middlemen who arrange the deals that provide us with the oil we need to keep our cars running and our homes warm. As Silverstein shows, these deals enrich the kleptocrats of our world and make life worse, rather than better, for their unfortunate subjects. It is a shameful and captivating tale about a pipeline of corruption that we must fix." --PETER MAASS, author of "Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil" "Much has been written about the oil industry, but Ken Silverstein provides an entirely new window into this vitally important universe. For the first time, we encounter the fixers, flacks, and traders behind the secretive deals that drive the industry and enrich its leading operators. After reading this book, you will never think about oil in the same way again." --MICHAEL KLARE, author of "The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources" "Ken Silverstein's sharp investigative reporting has again dragged a cast of shady operators into the public eye with his must-read book, "The Secret World of Oil" . Oil is the cause of so much pain in the world. As the fossil fuel industry tightens its grip on our warming planet, The Secret World of Oil names names, and exposes the brokers, lobbyists, and fixers who profit from the misery of millions and the accelerating pollution of the planet." --AMY GOODMAN, host and executive producer, " Democracy Now!" "Silverstein writes with keen reportorial objectivity but also understandable skepticism about...the frighteningly tyrannical hold that oil has on the free (and not-so-free) world. The book's revelations make Wall Street corruption seem tame by comparison."--"Kirkus Reviews" Praise for

About the Author

Ken Silverstein is a fellow of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He was a 2010-2012 Open Society Fellow. He served as Washington editor of Harper's magazine from 2006 to 2010. Previously on the staff of the Los Angeles Times, Silverstein has also written for Mother Jones, Wallpaper, Washington Monthly, the Nation, Slate, Salon, and many other publications.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1128 KB
  • Print Length: 289 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1781681376
  • Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (May 13, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GQA288K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,552 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The title of Ken Silverstein's new nonfiction book is The Secret World of Oil, but the chapters vary in how well they address aspects of the oil industry that are "secret." One area where he mostly succeeds is in his stories of the "fixers," important but little-known figures who serve as go-betweens for petroleum exploration companies interested in making deals with oil-producing countries (and the dictators who run them). These guys, the fixers, are a unique and often shady lot, but they serve a valuable and necessary function in the process.

It was my expectation that this book would reveal hidden industry practices relating to oil drilling, transportation, refining, and the like, but Silverstein focuses much more on the business side. (If I took a hint from the cover art, perhaps this wouldn't have been a surprise.) There are lawyers and lobbyists, traders and politicians. Sometimes the author strays fairly far from his main topic, as when he profiles Glencore, the world's largest commodities brokerage firm. They trade in all kinds of commodities, not just petroleum, but particularly zinc, copper, coal, and grain. Some chapters help us learn things that we already know, such as that dictators who run small Third World countries are usually in it for their own gain and not the betterment of their citizens.

The Secret World also has a "thrown together" kind of feel, as the author seems to just say, "OK, I'm done with that topic -- now onto another." Apart from their connection by the topic of the oil industry (and sometimes even that is missing), there's no clear overarching narrative.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Story of the Oil Industry April 3, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I feel fortunate to have been able to read and review the page proofs for Ken Silverstein's The Secret World of Oil. The author certain digs deeply into the corruption, political intrigues, human rights violations, willful environmental damage, and issues associated with the petroleum industry. The more I read the book, though, the more that I really wanted to see citations and tangible documentation of Silverstein's claims. In fact, the lack of tangible references and the lack of a bibliography seemed very strange coming from a fellow of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Although my suspicions are that Silverstein may be spot-on regarding the shady figures about whom he writes, the book at times seems too much like a left-wing version of the sensationalism that tends to be associated with right-wing radio commentators and "news" outlets. With some scholarly documentation, this could easily be a 4-star book. Without the documentation, there are just too many questions about the legitimacy of the claims.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The reader will learn a lot December 13, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book provides a peek behind the curtain at the business part of the oil industry, still a major part of the world's economy.

If an oil company wants to start drilling in a "new" country, like Equatorial Guinea, or somewhere in Central Asia, all they have to do is go to the president or Prime Minister, buy an oil lease, and start drilling, right? Wrong; there are other officials who need to be consulted, and compensated, first (American law forbids bribery, but American oil companies know that it's part of the cost of doing business). That is why "fixers" are so important. They know the local political landscape, or they have connections to the right officials. They also know how much the company should pay in "rebates" or "commissions."

Your father is the leader of some small country, with lots of oil reserves (the national treasury is treated like your own personal bank account). Your biggest decision is what glittering residence will you visit, your Malibu mansion, your Manhattan penthouse, or your villa on the French Riviera. Also, which of your dozen luxury cars will you bring with you?

There are a number of ex-politicians who travel the world making speeches about oil. Former British Prime Minister traveled to Azerbaijan where he received $150,000 for a speech lasting less than half an hour. In it, he said nice things about President Aliyev, whose human rights record is pretty horrible.

Neil Bush, part of the Bush family, has a bad record in the oil business. His companies don't just fail; they tend to crash and burn. But the Bush name is enough for foreign companies and governments to pay him tens of thousands of dollars for introductions.

This is a very interesting look at the oil industry. The author actually traveled the world, meeting the people portrayed in this book. The reader will learn a lot, and it is very much worth reading.
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By Chris
This tome by Mr. Silverstein is a pretty quick read. It is written in smooth flowing journalese. He has a handful of endnotes at the end of the book though a great many of his sources are based on his interviews with many of the book's subjects.

The book discusses the oil industry with a focus on fixers who serve the industry in the third world. Fixers help corporations establish investment opportunities in third world countries. Corporations prefer to establish relations with authoritarian governments, according to Silverstein's quote of former Chevron executive Edward Chow. Such governments can most reliably protect foreign companies from local backlash against companies' environmental destruction and looting of wealth. From this book, it appears that these fixers not uncommonly engage in the act of funneling bribes from international oil companies to government leaders in order to ensure a relatively smooth operating environment in those countries.

The first chapter focuses on Ely Calil. Mr. Calil is of Lebanese descent but grew up in Nigeria. Silverstein writes that he has become personally friendly with Calil and that their two families spend time together when Calil visits the Washington DC area. Silverstein portrays him as a relatively frank man who is not inclined to cover his chicaneries with protestations of idealistic intent. Calil was arrested by French authorities in 2002 for allegedly funneling bribes from the Elf oil company to Sani Abacha's dictatorship in oil rich Nigeria. He was not convicted but some Elf executives did go to jail. In an interview with Silverstein, he admits to funneling the bribes but says nothing illegal was done and that the French Ministry of Finance was quite aware of Elf's whole operation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Opens eyes on what it takes to fill a tank with gas
If you have ever wondered why the U.S.supports leaders of countries whose ways of governing are totally alien to our sense of right and wrong, then this book will offer... Read more
Published 1 month ago by James L. Webster
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good book
Published 2 months ago by Laszlo Daroczi
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Cast of Characters
This is an interesting book that appears to be well researched. Silverstein approaches the world of oil by selecting a handful of individuals to showcase the good, bad and ugly,... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jerry Sanchez
3.0 out of 5 stars Recommend, with reservations
The secret world of oil will probably be just as secretive after you've read the book. It's an interesting enough book, in its own way, but the title is a little misleading. Read more
Published 4 months ago by TopCat19
5.0 out of 5 stars Silverstein Cracks the Trade!
Amazing! This is the real deal. Silverstein connects with the oil market makers throughout the globe in personal visits whether it is in Europe, Asia, South America, etc. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Richard
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Interesting, but not memorable
Published 5 months ago by james kobacker
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting except when it's not
Overall, this book was interesting, so that's why I'm giving it four stars. Still, it's sometimes a snooze-fest, definitely biased and the author has a weird habit of describing... Read more
Published 5 months ago by J-J-J-Jinx
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
The Secret World of Oil exposes the machinations of various oil traders and shady deal makers. If you’ve wondered how sanctions are busted or how all that money winds up in Swiss... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Walt
4.0 out of 5 stars A business-oriented history
If you have read "The Seven Sisters" by Anthony Sampson, or Daniel Yergin's "The Quest", you will agree that this book is like the end of a trilogy that focuses on... Read more
Published 6 months ago by CGScammell
3.0 out of 5 stars Personalities in the oil industry
As other reviewers mentioned, this book is mostly a compilation of biographical stories, one per chapter, detailing the lives and dealings of some of the oil industry's players. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Dan Bergevin
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