Customer Review

56 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic -, September 20, 2011
This review is from: The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 20, 2011 3:42:19 PM PDT
ufik says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 21, 2011 2:14:02 AM PDT
I haven't read this book yet but I read "The Prize" by Yergin and it was outstanding. I have no reason to believe this book wouldn't be as well researched or written. Just because a review is postive doesn't indicate that the reviewer is a shill.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 22, 2011 5:23:10 PM PDT
A. says:
I definitely see many shills at amazon. But, usually they only write a single review ---this guy has over 3,000! Makes it more doubtful of his shilliness.

Posted on Sep 25, 2011 9:28:29 AM PDT
B. Boyle says:
It's a bit simplistic to say the the fluctuation in oil prices is what really did in the USSR, and therefore not Reagan's defense build-up. There are at least six things that brought down the Soviet Union. Each thing eroded the USSR in some way, and combined, they led to its collapse. A definitive history of this is yet to be written, but any comprehensive history of the fall of the Soviet Union needs to include all six (and maybe even more):

1) The rise of oil prices in the 1970s, followed by the collapse of oil prices in 1986 when the Saudis got fed up with cheating by fellow OPEC cartel members. The Saudis decided to open up their taps to punish other OPEC members, and the resulting collapse in world oil prices hit the USSR's balance of payments very hard

2) Reagan's defense build up: this strained the Soviet economy greatly. Reagan built up the Pentagon by spending 3-5% of US GDP. At this time, the USSR was spending 25-35% of GDP to compete, and they were producing generally inferior weapons systems when compared to the advanced munitions the US was starting to churn out

3) The war in Afghanistan: The war bled the Soviet military for 10 years, and the Soviet leadership (Breshnev, Andropove, Chernenko, and Gorbachev) all refused to call it a war. It was generally referred to as a police action or a peace keeping mission. Yet Russian families watched their sons come home in body bags for 10 years. Afghanistan is rightly called Russia's Vietnam, except it was waged with much less transparency and media scrutiny that the US war in Vietnam. The decade-long bleeding of Russia in Afghanistan led to real erosion of the trust that Soviet citizens had in their government, and led to big cracks in the totalitarian edifice.

4) Chernobyl: much like Afghanistan, this disaster was initially denied by the Soviet authorities, and as the scale of the catastrophe came into focus, it did a lot to damage the credibility of Soviet leadership

5) Pope John Paul II. The election of the Polish Pope led to huge waves of Catholic / nationalistic pride in Poland. His visit to Poland in the early 1980s almost set off revolution against the Soviets then, and the botched Soviet attempt to assassinate him made him an even more compelling figure in eastern europe. John Paul II's public criticism of communism in eastern europe gave sustenance to an inchoate anti-Soviet movement in eastern europe and led directly to the rise of Solidarity and other nationalist movements that eventually rolled back the iron curtain.

6) Gorbachev. His policies of glasnost and perestroika were meant to be incremental reforms, but they let the genie out of the bottle, and the rest is history.

A complete history of the Cold War and the fall of the USSR will include analysis of all of these elements. The interesting thing to talk about is the relative importance of each (mine are given in no particular order, and the relative importance of each is highly debatable). Each element was crucial, however.

So no one should ever say the Reagan defense build up single-handedly brought down the USSR, but just because you find another thing that led to the USSR's collapse (e.g. swings in the price of oil) doesn't mean Reagan's defense build up (of JP II or Afghanistan, etc) suddenly became irrelevant.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 22, 2012 11:22:58 AM PDT
R. Kirby says:
Very good synopsis! I'd add one more item, which came from the Soviet Union during glasnost and was apparently a well-worn item there: "They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work!".
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