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The Secret World of Oil

The Secret World of Oil

5.0 1
by Ken Silverstein

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The oil industry provides the lifeblood of modern civilization, and bestselling books have been written about the industry and even individual companies in it, like ExxonMobil. But the modern oil industry is an amazingly shady meeting ground of fixers, gangsters, dictators, competing governments, and multinational corporations, and until now, no book has set out to


The oil industry provides the lifeblood of modern civilization, and bestselling books have been written about the industry and even individual companies in it, like ExxonMobil. But the modern oil industry is an amazingly shady meeting ground of fixers, gangsters, dictators, competing governments, and multinational corporations, and until now, no book has set out to tell the story of this largely hidden world.

The global fleet of some 11,000 tankers—that's tripled during the past decade—moves approximately 2 billion metric tons of oil annually. And every stage of the route, from discovery to consumption, is tainted by corruption and violence, even if little of that is visible to the public.

Based on trips to New York, Washington, Houston, London, Paris, Geneva, Phnom Penh, Dakar, Lagos, Baku, and Moscow, among other far-flung locals, The Secret World of Oil includes up-close portraits of a shadowy Baku-based trader; a high-flying London fixer; and an oil dictator's playboy son who has to choose one of his eleven luxury vehicles when he heads out to party in Los Angeles. Supported by funding from the prestigious Open Society, this is both an entertaining global travelogue and a major work of investigative reporting.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Corrupt dictators with a penchant for boiling their adversaries, shady fixers who know just the right palms to grease, unctuous lobbyists in smoke-filled rooms—the global market for oil is not known for its cleanliness, political or environmental. Silverstein, a former editor at Harper’s, collects a number of his previously published profiles of the colorful characters inhabiting this ecosystem. Lightweight and entertaining, these sketches are suitably salacious, but, for the most part, expose relatively little about oil per se. Teodorin Nguema Obiang, son of the ruler of Equatorial Guinea, loves his cars, and “when he saw gawkers stop to admire” his two-million dollar Bugatti at a nightclub, he sent his chauffeur “back to Malibu by cab so could drive back his second Bugatti to park next to it,” but his graft is actually confined to selling off his country’s rainforest; slightly less ostentatious relatives control the oil. Bretton Sciaroni, a legal hack fired by the Reagan administration for his unseemly defense of unlimited executive authority, went on to work for the junta in El Salvador and Hun Sen in Cambodia, but this has nothing to do with oil. Silverstein’s muckraking will appeal to progressive interests, but oil itself does not tie this motley collection together. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Energy journalist Silverstein's study of the routinely corrupt but immensely profitable world of oil "fixers." When it comes to democratic nations conveniently turning a blind eye to the human rights violations of dictatorial regimes around the world that also happen to be rich in oil, we're not talking about a new story. Where Silverstein's debut breaks new ground is through the exposure of the oil "fixers"—the middlemen serving as the all-important connection governments and corporations need for gaining a foothold in countries where there are newly exploitable oil resources. Silverstein's book, however, is not only about these so-called fixers, but also about the corrupt dictators making billions of dollars from selling their country's energy resources while putting nothing back into their respective economies. The "stars" of the book, so to speak, are dictators such as Equatorial Guinea's Teodorin Obiang: The details of Obiang's vast, oil-soaked wealth and ridiculously excessive playboy lifestyle are dizzyingly unreal and almost inhuman; he also advocates torture and murder in his own country. Yet, since banana republics like Equatorial Guinea have become oil-rich nations with American corporations on their soil, the American government has only paid lip service to these countries' excessive human rights violations. Of the fixers, Silverstein spotlights kingpins like Ely Calil, who made untold millions from shady dealings with the Nigerian government. Just as importantly, he outlines the dirty deeds of peripheral figures such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his gun-for-hire PR business, which routinely propped up countless amoral Third World dictators with big-oil connections. Silverstein writes with keen reportorial objectivity but also understandable skepticism about these sketchy middlemen and the frighteningly tyrannical hold that oil has on the free (and not-so-free) world. The book's revelations make Wall Street corruption seem tame by comparison.
From the Publisher
“Ken Silverstein is one of the best investigative journalists of his generation – or any generation. The Secret World of Oil is a masterpiece of revelation. With a deft combination of detail and color, Silverstein exposes the darkest shade of crude: the fixers and middlemen who arrange the deals that provide us with the oil we need to keep our cars running and our homes warm. As Silverstein shows, these deals enrich the kleptocrats of our world and make life worse, rather than better, for their unfortunate subjects. It is a shameful and captivating tale about a pipeline of corruption that we must fix.” —Peter Maass, author of Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil
“Much has been written about the oil industry, but Ken Silverstein provides an entirely new window into this vitally important universe. For the first time, we encounter the fixers, flacks, and traders behind the secretive deals that drive the industry and enrich its leading operators. After reading this book, you will never think about oil in the same way again.” —Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources

“Ken Silverstein’s sharp investigative reporting has again dragged a cast of shady operators into the public eye with his must-read book. Oil is the cause of so much pain in the world. As the fossil fuel industry tightens its grip on our warming planet, The Secret World of Oil names names, and exposes the brokers, lobbyists, and fixers who profit from the misery of millions and the accelerating pollution of the planet.” —Amy Goodman, host and executive producer, Democracy Now!

"Silverstein writes with keen reportorial objectivity but also understandable skepticism about ... the frighteningly tyrannical hold that oil has on the free (and not-so-free) world. The book’s revelations make Wall Street corruption seem tame by comparison."—Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Journalist Silverstein's (fellow, Edmond J. Safra Ctr. for Ethics, Harvard Univ.; The Radioactive Boy Scout) intimate familiarity with Washington, DC; the oil industry; and the key players within the global oil trade makes this title a fascinating read. The book is cleverly divided into sections about those who heavily influence the oil market—fixers, dictators, traders, gatekeepers, flacks (press agents), lobbyists, and hustlers. These businessmen operate in backrooms and out in public, and they do so with authority and with efficiency—when convenient for themselves, of course. Silverstein's investigative work depicts business being bigger than government, all while operating under its protection. After completing this book, readers will have a much keener sense of how, and why, wars are started and oil prices fluctuate. VERDICT Required reading for students of economics and those who would like to become more educated on the large net of global companies and governments that dictate the oil markets. A well-written, informative narrative.—Meghan Dowell, Beloit Coll. Lib., WI

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Verso Books
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5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Ken Silverstein is a Senior Investigative Reporter with First Look Media. He has been a Fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and at Open Society Foundations. He served as Washington Editor of Harper’s Magazine from 2006 to 2010. Previously on the staff of the Los Angeles Times, Silverstein has also written for Mother Jones, Wallpaper, Washington Monthly, the Nation, Slate, Salon, and many other publications.

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The Secret World of Oil 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
plappen More than 1 year ago
This book provides a peek behind the curtain at the business part of the oil industry, still a major part of the world's economy. If an oil company wants to start drilling in a "new" country, like Equatorial Guinea, or somewhere in Central Asia, all they have to do is go to the president or Prime Minister, buy an oil lease, and start drilling, right? Wrong; there are other officials who need to be consulted, and compensated, first (American law forbids bribery, but American oil companies know that it's part of the cost of doing business). That is why "fixers" are so important. They know the local political landscape, or they have connections to the right officials. They also know how much the company should pay in "rebates" or "commissions." Your father is the leader of some small country, with lots of oil reserves (the national treasury is treated like your own personal bank account). Your biggest decision is what glittering residence will you visit, your Malibu mansion, your Manhattan penthouse, or your villa on the French Riviera. Also, which of your dozen luxury cars will you bring with you? There are a number of ex-politicians who travel the world making speeches about oil. Former British Prime Minister traveled to Azerbaijan where he received $150,000 for a speech lasting less than half an hour. In it, he said nice things about President Aliyev, whose human rights record is pretty horrible. Neil Bush, part of the Bush family, has a bad record in the oil business. His companies don't just fail; they tend to crash and burn. But the Bush name is enough for foreign companies and governments to pay him tens of thousands of dollars for introductions. This is a very interesting look at the oil industry. The author actually traveled the world, meeting the people portrayed in this book. The reader will learn a lot, and it is very much worth reading.