Book review: The Prize – The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power

Yet another book that my colleague suggested me to read. I also discussed it with another colleague who told me the same: this is a book that anyone in the oil and gas field should read. And what about people not in this industry?

Content and opinions

The book is primarily focused on the big scale, from a geopolitical and strategic point of view, with anecdotes on what happen behind the scenes. But even for the global scale, there are many things in the book that I didn’t know about: how Rockfeller make so rich in the first place, the role of gasoline in World War 1, what drove the 2 oil shocks… The book is quite big, and split in five parts, mainly driven by fundamental changes in the approaches to oil place. Sometimes it is difficult to follow the main thread of the story as the author has to go back in time to follow a different side of History, and also sometimes the name of the biggest companies is confusing, albeit precise.

The first part was like a Far West story. It starts in the middle of the 19th century and finishes before World War 1. Basically this is the story of Rockfeller fortune, the fall of his company, as well as a nice description of what happens when everyone looks for oil without regulation. It is “funny” to compare this to the current rush for gas shale in the US and how it is exploited (i.e. without regard for the global economy).

The second chapter describes World War 1 as well as the Depression that follows. Here, the politicians start noticing the importance of oil, and how it plays a crucial role in World War 1, as well as how it was a great helper in the recession. But it also indicated that oil needed a minimum price, which is what I think is currently forgotten in the gas shale exploitation: the gas companies are sacrified on the altar of growth. At leat Roosevelt understood that all the economy has to grow, and the oil and gas industry couldn’t be sacrified…

The third chapter tackles World War 2, and the different theatres of war. Clearly the different opponents knew about the importance of oil, and also the winners were those who could manage to keep a steady supply of oil. Also here is mentioned the issue we still face: what energy to use when you don’t have oil anymore?

Fourth chapter is about growth years before the first oil shock. Clearly the balance shifted then between companies and countries, and even though this part is less interesting in terms of events (there is still the birth of OPEC and the Suez crisis), it still brings some background for the current power balance that is not even hinted in the medias. Also the corruption of the countries by money is also introduced.

The fifth chapter describes the current balance, with the oil sword that was so important during the second oil shock and the war between Israel and the Arab nations. The way it was used is not something that I linked with the second oil shock at first, although it seems so blatant. Here is also where the Middle-East story ends with the first Iraq War. Of course, the Middle East is actually the central piece of the whole book, and there are so many pieces that gravitated around it int he book that it was sometimes incredible.

There is a small epilogue to sum up what could be after the first Iraq war and then the advent of the war on terrorism. This epilogue is lacking some depth, but it is really difficult to get perspective of events that are happening when you are writing the book!

Conclusion

I thought I understood the story of the 20th century quite well. I was very mistaken. Even though it is a long book, there is so much to discuss that it is sometimes not enough. It is simple enough so that anyone can read it. And everyone should read definitely read it.

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