Read The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money Power by Daniel Yergin Free Online
Book Title: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money Power|
The author of the book: Daniel Yergin
Edition: Free Press
Date of issue: December 23rd 2008
ISBN 13: 9781439110126
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 929 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.2
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I bought Daniel Yergin’s The Prize during one of my semi-regular fits of intellectual hunger, which often strike after I’ve read five straight books about Nazi henchman and zero books about anything relevant to today’s world. After the purchase, I put it on the shelf. And there it sat, for a long, long time. It is, after all, a tremendously big tome about oil; it does not scream out to be consumed or embraced or loved. For a long time it just sat there, on my shelf, laughing at me.
Finally, one day, I picked it up, and started to read it. Then I quit. Because it was about oil.
Sometime later, I came across a certain politically-oriented meme on my brother’s Facebook page. This meme consisted of a picture of a gas pump with a Post-It note stuck next to the digital price-per-gallon screen. The content of the note, summarized, is that gas prices now are higher than when Obama was inaugurated. The message strongly implied that if only we’d get smart and elect a Republican we could all get oil-drunk and drive huge and unnecessary pickup trucks and bathe in oil and pour oil in our cereal and light oil on fire just to laugh at the flames and all for $2 a gallon.
I assume I’m not the only one vexed by the question of constantly fluctuating oil prices. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to give a half-informed (if that) opinion about the cause. That’s when it struck me: I have this question about oil; I also have this massive, 800-page oil-opus written by one of the world’s leading energy authorities.
Thus had I reached that crucial moment when a sudden, fleeting interest intersected with exactly the right book to satisfy that interest.
Unfortunately, Daniel Yergin’s paper doorstop does not answer that fundamental question about oil prices. (That answer has something to do with oil being a global commodity. And also there are Oil Elves). Instead, The Prize positions itself as the history of the world from 1853 to 1991, told from the point of view of black gold, Texas tea, etc.
The slowest going comes at the beginning, during Part I, when Yergin details – at extensive length – the “founders” of the great oil companies (many of which exist today). This material is not inherently dramatic, but Yergin’s handling of it ensures that the narrative presents itself as more of a checklist of events than anything else. He jumps quickly from one place to the next, one person to the next, so that it all becomes something of a blur (a chronology in the back does help).
Moreover, The Prize has a sort of subject-myopia. It is so intent on touching on the highlights – Rockefeller forms Standard Oil; a gusher at Spindletop – that it never gets into all the other elements that make oil’s story worth telling (or, for that matter, give it context). Yergin never really explains how oil is discovered or recovered; how it evolved from a lighting source to a propulsion source; or the actual mechanics of how an oil company operates. To be sure, some of these topics are mentioned, but none are explored in a truly satisfactory way.
For instance, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) dominate the later sections of the book. Yergin is sure to tell you every time OPEC did something that shook up world oil markets. However, he never gets into any true discussion of OPEC’s workings. That is, how and why OPEC was able to accomplish what they accomplished (and still accomplish). In other words, The Prize is about tell, not show. There were many times I sought a deeper, fuller understanding of this subject; instead, there was often only a recitation of facts.
The story does pick up pace further on. This uptick coincides with oil’s breakthrough as a fuel source for machinery. Yergin devotes four chapters to World War II, the epochal event that ushered in this sea-change. Especially effective is his look at the Pacific Theater, where the first great blunder was Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s failure to destroy the oil fields near Pearl Harbor. Yergin’s insights into Japan’s desperate oil shortages has really deepened my understanding of the conflict. These shortages are mentioned – in passing – in every history of World War II. Fleeting references, however, fail to do the situation justice. Japan literally began the war with a timetable based on fuel stocks. When that timetable did not proceed apace, Japan’s ultimate defeat was a mathematical certainty. It forced Japan into numerous desperate measures that appeared fanatical, but which were dictated by oil logic.
(Chief among these measures were the kamikaze attacks. These suicide missions were exceedingly effective in terms of resource conservation, since planes only needed enough fuel for a one-way trip. Furthermore, fuel did not have to be expended to train these pilots, since all they needed to know was enough to get them off the ground and headed in the right direction).
The post-World War II years was the time when oil took its mantle as the leading natural resource. In Yergin’s phrase, it was the “age of the hydrocarbon man.” It is at this point, when a growing desire for oil butted up against a newly rearranged Middle East, that The Prize really hits its stride. The chapters on the Middle East cover all the flashpoints: the Suez Canal Crisis; the Yom Kippur War; the Iran-Iraq War; the fall of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution; and finally, Gulf War I, touched off by Saddam Hussein’s seizure of tiny, oil-rich Kuwait.
Not only are these international crises more interesting reading than earlier tales of wildcatting in Pennsylvania, but Yergin does a better job finding the human drama to accompany the inanimate central character. Interspersed between dry talk of concessions and OPEC and price controls, you get to meet fascinating people such as Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlevi, the Shah of Iran, T. Boone Pickens, the “wacky” billionaire, and J. Paul Getty, at one time the richest man in America:
As a young man, Getty was already launched on a life of wild romance and sexual adventure, with a special predilection for teenage girls. He married five times. But marriage vows were, for him, not even an inconvenience; to engage in some of his more clandestine affairs, he simply operated under a favored and not all that discreet alias, “Mr. Paul.” He liked to travel to Europe because it was less noticed that he was in “transit flagrante” with two or three women at a time. Yet the only true love of his life may have been a French woman, the wife of a Russian consul general in Asia Minor, with whom he had a passionate affair in Constantinople in 1913. He bade what he hoped was a temporary farewell to her on the dock at Istanbul, but then lost contact with her forever in the turmoil of war and revolution that followed. Even sixty years later, whereas he would discuss his five marriages almost technically, as if they were lawsuits, a mere mention of this lady, Madame Marguerite Tallasou, was enough to bring tears to his eyes.
It’s strange to think, but there are kids alive today, old enough to carry on conversations, who have never lived in a world in which America was not at war in the Middle East. We’re there, ostensibly, to fight terrorists. But if you follow the trail back into the past, you find we’re there for an entirely different reason. Among other things, terrorism is a response to the West’s continued (often heavy-handed) presence in the Middle East. That presence has included rampantly exploiting natural resources and propping up certain leaders – often to the detriment of their people – in order to create advantageous geopolitical stability. That stability is necessary to the uninterrupted flow of a very precious commodity.
In the end, the cliché that “it’s all about oil” is true. The Prize, despite what I found to be shortcomings, does a masterful job of explaining just how that happened. In that way, it succeeds in doing what all history books aspire to do: to show the direct link between the past and the present. Even though The Prize ends in 1991 (with a short update chapter), it clearly proves its thesis that oil – and all the struggles surrounding its discovery, acquisition, and distribution – created our modern world. For better and for worse.
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Read information about the authorDaniel Yergin is the author of the new bestseller The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World which has been hailed as “a fascinating saga” about the “quest for sustainable resources of energy,” and “the book you must read to understand the future of our economy and our way of life,” not to mention “necessary reading for C.E.O.’s, conservationists, lawmakers, generals, spies, tech geeks, thriller writers. . . and many others.”
He received the Pulitzer Prize for The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil Money and Power, which became a number one New York Times best seller and has been translated into 17 languages.
Dr. Yergin is Vice Chairman of IHS and Founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and serves as CNBC’s Global Energy Expert.
Other books by Dr. Yergin include Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy. Dr. Yergin has also written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, and many other publications.
Both The Prize and Commanding Heights were made into award winning documentaries. The eight-hour miniseries The Prize was aired on PBS, BBC, and NHK and viewed by 20 million viewers in the United States alone. The 6-hour documentary Commanding Heights that Dr. Yergin produced received three Emmy nominations, and the New York Festivals Gold World Medal for best documentary.
Dr. Yergin serves on the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board and chaired the US Department of Energy’s Task Force on Strategic Energy Research and Development. He is a Trustee of the Brookings Institution, on the Board of the New America Foundation, and on the Advisory Board of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative.
Dr. Yergin holds a BA from Yale University and a PhD from Cambridge University, where he was a Marshall Scholar.
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