Book Review: Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil

{F8A09494-3DC7-4E44-BD6C-6862E57F3628}Img400Title:  Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil

Author:  Peter Maass

Publisher:  Knopf

Published:  September 22, 2009

Quick Synopsis: Oil is the black sludge from hell and it will doom us all!

Rating:  Will read…once

If you ever wanted to know what the effects of oil are on the world at large…you would have to read several hundred books.

I am not kidding. Oil is more fundamental to our lives than any of us either realise or are willing to admit.

Still, once you do set off on your quest to understand the impact of oil, Peter Maass’s ‘Crude World’ should be one of the stops on your journey.

But unfortunately the book will always remain just that – one of the stops on a long journey; an early stop that might be soon forgotten.

The book, which traces the impact of oil across various countries, has an important premise – oil money, that unlimited torrent of wealth that floods into a region at the merest hint of some black sludge, has rarely benefited the people living on top of the oil.

An equal part damnation of big oil companies and the governments of oil-rich countries, Maas gives us a bird’s eye view of the environmental, social and political upheavals that so much unregulated, unexpected and unaccountable money has created.

He also does a fair job of pointing out the various intertwined causes and necessities that create such conditions.

The book does falter in a few places though.

Maass can rarely keep his own sanctimonious beliefs out of the narrative. Not a bad thing sometimes, but there is a difference between showing us the effects of petrodollars and dragging us to a spot and screaming “See the evil!”

And while it is understandable that oil extraction does not benefit the locals as much it should and it definitely harms health and environment, it is a little hard to believe Maass’s repeated assertions that the wealth has done nothing good ever- especially since evidence to the contrary can be easily found.

This undermines the otherwise fine moral strength that the book rests upon.

Maass does have small sections where he tries to give a more balanced view – admitting, for example, that since oil companies must do business where the oil is, they usually do not have the luxury of conducting business only in corruption-free Denmark.

But such explanations are far between.

And so in some parts of the book you get the feeling that he is choosing to present only those parts of the oil narrative that fit his world-view.

However most of the book is genuine and passionate declaration of the sins of oil, and by the end you will have to admit that its sins are many indeed.

No armchair activist, Maass tells us the stories while actually standing on the ground and includes valuable and informative asides about how the oil industry works, how oil is extracted and the manner in which the business of oil is conducted.

All of this lends a great sense of realism and depth to the narrative, which stretches from Africa to Saudi Arabia to Russia and Venezuela.

Weirdly enough it is the conclusion that turns out to the weakest link in the book,

After a good and realistic look at the problems, we are treated to a long, optimistic, indulgent and somewhat utopian harangue about how we can change everything if we wanted to so all we need to do is to really, really want to change.

Err…thanks…Yeah…We’ll get right on that then…I guess…

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