Every unhappy oil-producing nation is unhappy in its own way, but all are touched by the "resource curse" - the power of oil to exacerbate existing problems and create new ones. In Crude World, Peter Maass presents a vivid portrait of the troubled world oil has created. He takes us to Saudi Arabia, where officials deflect inquiries about the amount of petroleum remaining in the country's largest reservoir; to Equatorial Guinea, where two tennis courts grace an oil-rich dictator's estate but bandages and aspirin are a hospital's only supplies; and to Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez's campaign to redistribute oil wealth creates new economic and political crises.
Maass, a New York Times Magazine writer, also introduces us to Iraqi oilmen trying to rebuild their industry after the invasion of 2003, an American lawyer leading Ecuadorians in an unprecedented lawsuit against Chevron, a Russian oil billionaire imprisoned for his defiance of Vladimir Putin's leadership, and Nigerian villagers whose livelihoods are destroyed by the discovery of oil. Rebels, royalty, middlemen, environmentalists, indigenous activists, CEOs - their stories, deftly and sensitively presented, tell the larger story of oil in our time.
Crude World is a startling and essential account of the consequences of our addiction to oil.
©2009 Peter Maass; (P)2009 Random House
"With the clarity of a hard-boiled investigator and the grace of a fine writer, Peter Maass reveals how oil has cursed the countries that possess it, corrupted those who want it, and wrought havoc on a world addicted to it. Brilliant and compelling." (Robert B. Reich)
The title is appropriate - Crude World - each chapter is a small narrative and description of how a specific place has been affected by oil extraction (Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Russia, etc). But the subtitle is misleading - The Violent Twilight of Oil - only the first chapter touches on the violence, conflict and probable outcomes of Peak Oil, which is why I bought the book in the first place. After chapter 1, it's all make-you-feel-guilty descriptions of the past and current misery of locals, the corruption of governments and the greed of big business, without any alternative viewpoints or perspectives or future predictions. The author is good at telling the narrative, no doubt. And the author does relay interviews with good sources. But ultimately, this is a bleeding-heart "look at all the bad things oil has done" history - not a long-term strategic perspective on the "Twilight" of the petroleum age.
mostly nonfiction listener
This is not a typical "end of oil and the economic apocalypse is coming" type book. Yes, Maass believes that we will see the end of the oil age in our lifetimes, but he sees this development has mostly a good thing. Maass develops a compelling case for the "resource curse" by detailing the oppression, corruption, and stagnation present in oil rich countries. From Nigeria to Saudia Arabia, Russia to Venezuala, countries most blessed with large oil deposits are cursed by high unemployment, structural inequality, violence, and unsustainable development.
American oil companies, U.S. consumers, and the U.S. government has been complicit in all the evils done in the name of petroleum extraction. I wonder if a more balanced and nuanced story could be told about the impact of oil on our world? I wondered how much oil has supported "good" economic growth as well as "bad" consumption. But overall Maass' indictment of oil, oil industries, and oil regimes provides a compelling set of reasons (as if we needed any more reasons) to reduce our dependency on oil through incentives (taxes), conservation, and research.
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