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Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil Hardcover – April 9, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With American relations in the Middle East on shaky ground, the U.S. government and the petroleum industry have turned to Africa as a new source of oil, investing more than a billion dollars a year in the continent since 1990. China and India are also looking to African crude oil, which is "lighter" and "sweeter" than its Arab counterpart and thus requires less costly refining, to fuel their booming economies. So Ghazvinian, an Oxford historian armed with "a suitcase full of notepads and malaria pills, and a sweaty money belt stuffed with $100 bills," toured a dozen oil-producing nations to see how they'd been affected by the oil boom. What he finds is internal strife: in Nigeria, the only thing that keeps one group of interview subjects from assaulting him is that he doesn't work for Shell. Later, an official in the "self-parodying burlesque of a tin-pot kleptocracy," Equatorial Guinea, makes a not-so-veiled threat after soliciting a bribe falls through. Even more stable nations have their problems: in Gabon the national economy was so transformed by oil that the government has to import most of its food from neighboring countries. Ghazvinian's ground-level interviews bring perspective to the chaos, though readers may wish for a map to follow his path through the unfamiliar territory. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The possibility of Africa as a greater source of oil, and a way to reduce dependence on the Middle East, raises questions about the potential at the heart of this continent so associated with despair and human suffering. Historian Ghazvinian provides a historical overview of oil extraction from both Nigeria and Angola, the major oil producers in Africa to date. He explores the relationship between these two nations with the major oil companies, the unsettling ethnic conflicts and imbalances in economic development, and the countries with lesser but active oil production, including Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Cameroon. Ghazvinian explores the speculative offshore drilling in other nations and concerns about their lack of sophistication and undue dependence on Texas and British companies. Noting the lessons of the past, he raises concerns of African nations suffering the "curse of oil" with uneven development. He also explores China's readiness to play an aggressive role in Africa to assure access to these potential oil reserves, and the broader implications for competition with the West. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151011389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151011384
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,680,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

So, I grudgingly agreed to read and review this book.
M. L Lamendola
I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary world affairs, Africa or the oil industry.
H. Campbell
Ghazvinian, however, has a knack for writing excellent prose.
Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty on March 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I regret having to say this at the outset. I suspect most readers browsing a bookstore's shelves will look at the title of this book and simply pass it by. And this is unfortunate for two reasons. First, because, like it or not, the production of oil is of utmost concern to the world and especially the United States and Europe. Second, the book itself, "Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil," by John Ghazvinian, is extremely well written, as well as vitally informative.

Anyone who keeps up on current events knows that the situation in the Middle East is growing increasingly unstable and violent. For a long time, this area has also been the most significant source of oil for the Western world. And the West, after all, literally runs on oil. We may not like our dependence on foreign oil, but we do have a very personal attachment to all the goodies that petroleum products bring into our lives. Short of a concerted conservation effort on the part of the public, or a relaxation on the part of committed environmentalists to their anti-drilling policies, or (heaven help us!) an extremely large tax on gasoline and other petro-products to discourage consumers, little will probably be or can be done to resolve the current crisis. So, for the most part, we will remain dependent on foreign oil for the foreseeable future.

Ghazvinian, in his book, takes our focus off of the Middle East and forces us to look at Africa as a source of oil. (Africa, in this context, is the area south of the Sahara Desert.) It has been known for a long time, according to Ghazvinian, that Africa is rich in oil. The problem has been the cost of tapping it and bringing it into production.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Saleem Ali on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This racy yet rather trite book joins a growing genre of volumes about the oil industry and its global influence. The overall tone is reminiscent of Michael Klare or Thomas Friedman's work, though with less literary or academic polish. The narrative reads like a series of capers by the author as he traveled across Africa's oil countries that convinced him that the oil industry is a menace and not a messiah. Even though the author has a doctorate in history from Oxford, this book has little analysis or guidance for Africa's oil economies and joins a sorry list of itinerant gloom-mongering polemics. If there is any doubt about the author's strong normative positions on the matter, consider the following quotations from the introduction (p. 6): "By the end of the five-day congress, only a red-assed baboon could have failed to appreciate the take-home message to the international oil industry: Africa: come get it!" Such rhetoric is likely to generate more heat than light on the matter.

Clearly Africa's oil economies have serious challenges but they deserve careful analysis and solutions. Ghazvanian book does not consider for example, that Equatorial Guinea was a basket case of poor governance and corruption even before oil was found. If anything, there is now greater scrutiny over what is going on in Malabo. The author's brief sojourn in Gabon does not consider the fact that the country has more preserved forests per unit area than any other central African country because the oil sector reduced the need for large-scale timber harvesting. The oil industry certainly needs to be held accountable for its past follies but we need to consider development for communities in its entirety and approach the matter with nuance and care. Narratives such as this throw the baby out with the bathwater.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By M. L Lamendola VINE VOICE on April 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The first thing that struck me about this book is that Ghazvinian has a gift for writing. In a market swamped with books that exemplify poor writing, that's saying a lot. But it's not the only reason to read this book.

Oil is one of those topics that is frequently abused with misdirection, misinformation, and misconceptions. So, I grudgingly agreed to read and review this book. After reading it, I though of a new twist on an old adage. Don't judge a book by its topic. I have to give this book high marks, all the way around.

One of the common misconceptions about oil is that most of it is in the Middle East and Central America. The truth is that Africa has vast amounts of oil that we are only beginning to discover. Ghazvinian provides some startling statistics on the offshore reserves alone.

Another common misconception is that any country with large oil reserves will also have great wealth. Actually, oil can--and often does--impoverish a country. Ghazvinian explains why, and provides detailed accounts of how this actually happened in case after case. The devastating effects of mismanagement following the discovery of oil, are unfortunately, the lead story of every country on the west coast of Africa.

The United States now imports most of its oil. Most people do not realize that if Americans made a few minor adjustments, the United States could be a net exporter of oil. Instead, Americans drive gas guzzlers and take unnecessary trips. This boosts the international demand for oil, and that demand is now escalating even faster as China and India ramp up their economies.

Even fewer people realize that the cost of extracting the oil to meet the demand goes far beyond the cost of equipment and oil company salaries.
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