Book Review on ” The Prize Epic quest for Oil Money and Power” by
BookReview on " The Prize: Epic quest for Oil Money and Power"by Daniel Yergin
Theglobal oil industry has been the focus of recent studies due to therise of conflict in oil- producing areas. The global oil industry isfaced by numerous conflicts and the rising demand for oil has nothelped in improving matters. The book ‘The Prize: Epic quest forOil Money and Power’ by Daniel Yergin discusses the relationshipbetween oil, politics, and capitalism. The book also showed theintricate relationship between oil, international politics, andrelationship between oil and society. The book is a detailed researchabout the oil industry and covers the broad history of the oilindustry from 1850s. This book review will look at the positive andnegative aspects of the book in terms of presentation of ideas.
Yergin’sbook became popular as it was released two months before SaddamHussein invaded Kuwait and three months before America invaded Iraq.The book is well- research and its information is impartial andcovers the intrigues of modern politics in international oil trade.He argues that the international oil trade is morally corrupt andmost the politics involved make the oil industry a trade ofbloodshed. Yergin also focused on the need for finding alternativesources of fuel for future generations because the use of fossilfuels is a major player in global warming and environmentaldestruction.
Yerginstarted with the history of the oil industry. The oil industry gainedglobal recognition with the invention of locomotives that werepowered by fuel. The increase in demand for oil gave rise to the newworld of oil. Countries with vast deposits of oil startedexperiencing internal conflicts and quest for autonomy of some parts(Yergin,22).The book documented the breakup of the Soviet Union and the intriguesof the oil economy in the breakup. The new world of oil is achronology of the states that emerged due to the oil industry. Thebreakup of the Soviet Union is an excellent example as most of thestates broke away as they were self- sufficient in terms of oildeposits (Yergin,52).These are the new world that emerged as a result of the oil economy.
Theindependent states emerged backed up by the oil economy, but thiscame up following much bloodshed. Yergin intricately connects thecontinued cold war between these countries and their masters, to theoil industry. The nations that separated from Russia are an excellentexample of how the new oil world continues to have uneasy ties withtheir masters (Yergin,47).The new independent states emerged as they wanted to control the oilin their territory for their own benefits, but this did not go downwell with their masters. This is what Yergin calls the great game, inwhich states raced to control oil deposits in different territories.
Yergindocumented how previously low- economy countries emerged from theglobal demand for oil. The oil industry also gave rise to vastpersonal fortunes such as the case of John D. Rockerfeller. TheMiddle East particularly received attention from Yergin whodocumented how the desert region rose from the shadows due toglobalization of the oil industry (Yergin,180).The region is comprised of oil- rich countries, which startedreceiving global political recognition due to the vast oil wealth inthe region. Most of the countries had nothing much to offer beforethe discovery of oil, but received instant global recognitionsfollowing the discovery of oil. Saudi Arabia is an interesting readas Yergin argues that the country is known for human rightsviolation, but the country continues to receive favor from the West,which is a strong advocate for human rights.
Yerginalso documented how the rise of the oil industry led to a massiveviolation of human rights as politicians and business men struggledto control the oil industry. The book documents major wars in the19thand 20thcenturies that were produced by fight over the control of oil- richregions or trade. The wars were also caused by a shift in control ofthe oil industry from the oil exporting companies to the oil-producing countries. The shift in power made some of the countrieswith no oil deposits controlled the oil industry throughmultinational oil- exporting countries (Yergin,227).The companies controlled the oil prices and this often came at adisadvantage to the oil- producing nations. As the power shifted,wars emerged as the companies and their parent companies did not wantto lose control.
TheMiddle Eastern conflicts have been a major concern of the twenty-first century. The wars are mainly fueled by the Western countriesthat are the greatest consumers of oil. This has caused negativesentiment towards the West by citizens of the Middle Easterncountries. The global oil industry is characterized by deeprivalries, backroom deals, and power plays that fuel wars andcontinue to cause deep discontent and mistrust between the producersand consumers of oil (Yergin,350).America has especially been at the center of the global conflict withits troops in many Middle Eastern countries. Yergin argues that thiswas as a result of a tilt in the center of power, when Americashifted from an exporter to an importer of oil.
Theforces within the industry also led to unprecedented wars that werestrategic in the control of the industry. The conflicts weresupported by the desire to control the industry. Yergin notes thatthe war against Iraq was so as to limit the country’s control ofthe oil sector and not terrorism as claimed. The war in Iraq wasmeant to curb the ambition of Iraq to annex Kuwait. If Iraq hadsucceeded in annexing Kuwait, the country would have been the singlelargest controller of the oil sector in the Persian Gulf. The war wasthus waged so as to control Iraq’s ambitions as this would havemeant the control of the world’s most important sector would havebeen on a single country (Yergin,495).
Yergingoes into details and profiles of political figures and little known-oil figures who have had much influence over the oil industry. Themost interesting is the profile of H. L. Williams, a person hereferred to as the godfather of offshore drilling. Yergin illustratedhow Williams got involved with political as well as business figuresto influence the global oil trade. In the profiling section, Yerginalso shows how global political leaders have made decisions thataffect the oil industry due to influence by powerful business men intheir countries. Oil money has fueled global politics for many yearsand this has made political leaders exposed to the control ofpersonalities who control the oil industry (Yergin,502).
Thenationalization of oil by Mexico and Venezuela was also seen as acause for the animosity between the two countries and America. Theleadership of the two countries nationalized the oil industry so thatthe citizenry could benefit from the revenues that were generated bythe sector (Yergin,602).The sector was previously controlled by multi- national countries,which did and the revenues generated did not benefit the people ofVenezuela and Mexico. The companies were mainly from America and thenationalization of the oil industry removed them from the monopolythey held in the industry. This formed the basis for the difficultrelationships that are evident between the countries.
Yerginalso documented how the shift in oil prices affected the globaleconomy over the years. The modern world economy is shaped by the oilindustry meaning the oil- producing countries receive favors from therest of the world so as to maintain good relations. In someinstances, the oil prices fell so low that the economies of the oil-producing countries nearly collapsed. However, the prices rose againand this forced consumers from across the globe to adjust to the newprices. The increase in global oil prices caused an escalation in thecost of living as the global economy is fueled by oil (Yergin,621).
Apartfrom the role of the oil- producing countries in influencing the oilindustry, the oil- exporting multinationals have played a major rolein the oil industry. Yergin specifically documents the role ofStandard oil in the industry (Yergin,320).Yergin attributed the rise of the role of multinational oil companiesin the industry to the capitalization of the industry. According toYergin, the oil industry became heavily entrepreneurial when the oilexporting companies entered the scene. Initially, the oil industrywas mainly about extracting, purifying and distributing. Themultinationals introduced capitalism to the traditionally reservedindustry so that they could gain control.
Themultinational companies were backed by their parent countries andtheir major role was to influence global oil prices so that theirparent companies could benefit. The companies were also supposed toensure that the prices of oil remained low so that the oil- importingcountries could benefit from the trade. This is what caused the near-collapse of the economies of oil- producing countries as they had nocontrol over oil prices. The multinational companies controlled theglobal oil prices and they bought the oil at low prices and resold athigh prices, which generated millions of dollars for the companies(Yergin,530).The entry of the multinationals to the industry is also blamed forthe rise of wars that were fueled by oil revenues across the oil-producing countries.
Therole of the companies in the industry is evident from the list of thefortune 500 companies. In 1990, the list of Fortune 500 companies wasled by companies in the oil industry. Seven of the top twentycompanies were from the oil industry. The companies controlled theoil industry closely and minted millions of dollars, which madeinstant millionaires and companies. The rise of the oil- producingcompanies has, however, given rise to new centers of power in theindustry. The countries ousted the multinationals as the drivers ofthe industry and this led to a decline of the fortunes of thecompanies.
Yerginalso noted the oil companies were never involved in improving thelives of local communities. The companies were only interested inmining the oil from the places where they were operating and not inlifting the lives of the locals. In most areas, the companies fueledrivalry in the areas so that they could go on with their activitiesuninhibited. The companies used divide and rule tactics and this waswhat resulted in wars in the areas that produced oil (Yergin,721).The companies also failed to lift effectively, the lives of thelocals as the revenues generated from the oil trade was mainlyinvested in their home countries. This was the push behindnationalization of the oil sector in some countries. Yergin noted theintrigues behind the fall of BP in Iran. The company is a suitablerepresentation of the glaring ignorance of the community by the oilcompanies.
Notably,Yergin attributes the First and Second World Wars to the oilindustry. Both wars were fueled by a desire to occupy new regionsthat were rich in oil so as to have global control of the oil market.The place of Germany and USSR in the wars are well documented. Yerginnoted that Germany invaded Russia as it sought to control the oilrich regions that were around Russia (Yergin,251).This resulted in the Second World War that sucked in most of theworld powers. The Germans wanted to expand their territory to coveroil- rich areas of Russia.
However,Yergin glaringly ignores some of the most atrocious wrongs committedby the oil players especially the Western countries and theirmultinationals. For example, Yergin blames most of the problems inthe oil- producing countries to their own shortcomings. For example,the British and Iran had frosty relations in the 40s due to the roleof the British government in the bombing of Persian villages. Yerginfails to recognize how the Western countries have contributed to aviolation of human rights for the sake of keeping the oil industryafloat. The Western countries have also dragged their feet innegotiating for peace in the Middle East as they benefit from theconflicts. The conflicts keep oil prices low and the countries cancontrol the governments in the region for their own gains.
Finally,Yergin focused on the need for alternative sources of energy. Yergindocuments the missed opportunities to in developing alternativeenergy that are clean and renewable. Fossil fuels are non- renewableand Yergin predicts that the oil reserves will be depleted in aboutfifty years. The world is consumes oil at a rising rate and thiscalls for the development of renewable sources of oil for futuregenerations (Yergin,758).Some of the vast oil reserves on earth are increasingly diminishingand future generations will require alternative energy sources so asto sustain their activities.
Thehydrocarbon generation, according to Yergin is looking a bleak futureif the problem of alternative sources of energy is not addressed.Most industries are run by oil and this means that once the wells rundry, the future generations will have trouble running theireconomies. Yergin also noted that the oil- producing countries needto look for alternative means of running their economies becausetheir economies are highly dependent on oil (Yergin,730).The depletion of oil reserves must be addressed by using alternativesources of energy. This will also slow down the depletion of oilreserves and rescue the oil- producing companies from collapsing oncethe oil reserves are finished.
Yerginproposed the invention of energy- efficient cars, airplanes andsystems so as to reduce the consumption of energy (Yergin,691).Yergin argues that the use of oil is inevitable and the quickdepletion of oil reserves was due to inefficient use of energy. Theearly use of oil was extravagant as oil was available in abundance.However, the twentieth century witnessed a sharp increase in thedemand for oil as industrialization gained ground. The twenty- firstcentury was characterized by a rise in globalization, which increasedthe demand for oil. These factors are a central cause of the quickdepletion of oil reserves. Yergin proposed increased research intoalternative sources of energy to reduce the overreliance on fossilfuels.
Apartfrom the potential danger to economies that rely on oil, the use offossil fuels is a central contributor to a rise in global warming andenvironmental pollutions. The hydrocarbons that are released byburning fossil fuels are dangerous to the environment and they causedestruction to the environment. The hydrocarbons also cause energyretention in the atmosphere thus, contributing to global warming(Yergin,615).This puts future generations at risk of smaller sources of food thanother generations and exposure to the vagaries that come with globalwarming such as rising sea levels. This could give rise to new warsbased on the utilization of resources.
Therole of environmental population is well documents with several oilaccidents and oil spills that have contributed to pollution ofresources. The pollution of water bodies by accidents that resultedin major oil spills contributed to the pollution of the water bodiesand the death of water species (Yergin,591).This means that the oil industry has been a major contributor toenvironmental pollution and destruction of the environment. Oildisasters due to fires have also contributed to environmentalpollution, which destroyed natural flora and fauna.
Yerginnoted that the depletion of oil reserves could also lead to adifficult future as the prices of commodities could rise sharply. Thedecreasing oil reserves means that the prices of oil will rise due toincreased demand and reduced supply. The rise of the prices of oil isdue to economic forces which hold that the prices of a commodity risewhen the supply is limited. This will naturally affect othercommodities as the production and distribution of goods is dependenton the prices of oil. The global economy ought to thus, findalternative sources of energy to save future generations from acostly life as a result of high oil prices (Yergin,739).However, Yergin failed to tackle decisively, the question of othersources of fuel and the environmental and economic impact ofoverreliance on oil.
Inconclusion, Yergin gave a historical chronology of the oil sector andhow it has influenced world politics and economics especially in thetwentieth and the twenty- first centuries. Yergin illustrated how oilhas been a source of good and bad for citizens of differentcountries. The book can be segmented into three distinct sectionsthat are the history of oil, the role of oil in geopoliticalrelations, and the future of the society with the diminishing oilreserves. The book gave an interesting account on the role of oil inmodern wars and political relations. The role of multinational oilcompanies was also highlighted in the global oil prices and violationof human rights. Finally, Yergin discussed the need for alternativesources of energy as the global oil reserves are diminishing at ahigh rate due to increased demand.
Yergin,Daniel. (2008). ThePrize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. NewYork: Free Press.