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Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil Paperback – May 13, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While all eyes focus on the oil-rich Middle East as the nexus of conflict in a world addicted to crude, the future belongs to Africa, writes British journalist Shaxson in this page-turning, character-driven narrative. Illuminating African postcolonial (and neocolonial) history through the prism of oil, he reveals the central and dangerous role that Africa's oil states now play, casting the precious fuel as a poison not only for the continent but "to liberty, democracy, and free markets around the globe." An acute observer of the vast and secretive industry, Shaxson draws on his own reporting in key areas like Nigeria, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Angola as well as the work of experts like the late François-Xavier Verschave. In this stark portrait, the paradox of African oil is that, time and again, enormous wealth for a few translates into increasing poverty and political and economic insecurity for the majority. Shaxson sketches a system largely outside the purview of international law involving the highest levels of French, U.S. and other Western governments, financial institutions and elites. Although he proposes practical legislative steps, Shaxson makes clear that the grievous mix of politics, mafia-style operations and endless oil profits not only subverts democratic reforms, but in places like the Niger Delta gives rise to exactly the kind of conditions that produced September 11. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Shaxson argues convincingly that the failed oil states of Africa will be the next Great Game in a world still addicted to oil and increasingly willing to fight for it. This book is a must read for anyone concerned about Africa and Big Oil. Shaxson's obvious love for the continent and its people comes clearly through in his writing but does not temper his revulsion at the complex and bloody mess he found there. He digs deeply to uncover the real story beneath the headlines and to eloquently explain an Alice in Wonderland world of money, corruption, war and intrigue. It is a story well told that has the power to stun even the most hardened observer of Africa's tragedy. Yet at the same time Shaxson powerfully describes people who have battled against the corrupt, the venal and the just plain evil, making a book that is often as inspiring as it is horrifying. Mixing the personal and political, he has written a compelling story that explains one of the most baffling riddles of the modern world: why has oil become a curse for Africa, not a blessing?” ―Paul Harris, US Correspondent, The Observer

“Nicholas Shaxson has traveled to some of the most dangerous and dysfunctional nations on the planet, delved into the murky depths of the African oil business and emerged with a grisly but compelling tale of greed, corruption, and violence. There are still some who believe that oil can rescue Africa from poverty at the same time as saving America from its fatal dependence on suppliers in the Middle East. In this remarkable book, the fruit of years of painstaking research, Shaxson exposes oil as a destroyer, not a savior, of all that is best in Africa.” ―Victor Mallet, Asia editor, Financial Times, and author of The Trouble with Tigers: The Rise and Fall of South-East Asia

“This is a splendid book about a crucial subject. We need oil. We want the countries that sell it to us to be stable. But oil itself destabilizes them, unless they were mature democracies before they discovered it. Nicholas Shaxson has put in more legwork in wrecked African petro-states than any other reporter I can think of. The result is a cracking tale of blood, champagne and the 'Devil's excrement.'” ―Robert Guest, former Africa editor, The Economist, and author of The Shackled Continent

“This book will be unsettling for those with preconceived ideas about the oil industry, international business or African politics. Shaxson shows that there are no easy answers to questions on the role of multinational oil giants in Africa, or how to tackle the corruption that is often the result of their oil deals. He shows there are many, many complicated shades of grey--but he does so, thankfully, using such a colorful style and language that the book comes to life and is a pleasure to read.” ―Hugh Williamson, Berlin correspondent, Financial Times

“[A] highly readable and provocative book... Devoid of social science jargon, the narrative in this engaging, informative book reads like a novel, making it accessible to a wide audience... Highly recommended.” ―CHOICE


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023060532X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230605329
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shaxson's introduction and preliminary chapters immediately prove that he is a bona fide Africa expert. Having extensively lived and worked there, getting closely acquainted with the politicians, industrialists and average joes, he knows his topic better than any ivory tower academic or think tank regional "expert." His anecdotes and insights are accurate, concise and reasonably centrist. His writing is excellent. And yet he failed to earn 5 stars because the book itself delves too far into specific biographies of pivotal politicos and activists. Shaxson is sharp and experienced enough to produce a country-by-country analytical handbook documenting oil's impact on 21st Century Africa but instead he chose to take the conversational, journalistic feature-article format. For professionals and novices seeking accurate and timely information on Africa, this is a good start. Lutz Kleveman's "New Great Game" was equally readable and informal but a far more informative example for Shaxson to follow in his next book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Of the current crop of "what is wrong with Africa" books including "The Shackled Continent", "The White Man's Burden" and "The Trouble with Africa", Nicholas Shaxson's analysis and prescriptions for change are the most radical and on-the-money. Shaxson's book should be widely read and discussed. Unfortunately, too much invested in the status quo by all concerned to see much likelihood of change within the next few decades.
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Format: Hardcover
Well, this is a book that has all the attributes of a well researched book. It is informative, entertaining but didn't dwell well enough on the historical perspectives that gave rise to Africa's debilitating circumstances. The author's privileged upbringing may not have accorded him the opportunities of seeing things with the eyes of the ordinary dispossessed, repressed and oppressed African whose life is badly structured within the bogus and fraudulent concept of Nation State. A concept that has robbed him of his due place and left him stranded in cyclical malady of frightening dimensions! On the whole, the book is worth reading!!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book is very well written.It documents the authors expereinces with various African countries in relation to the oil business and provides an insightful analysis of the impacts of the sleazy dealings within the oil industry on the continent. An excellent read!!
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