BOOK REVIEW….Oil: A concise guide to the most important product on earth

Author: Matthew Yeomans

ISBN: 1-59558-028-X

This is Matthew Yeomans’ essential guide to a product that now rules every aspect of our lives. The book aims to highlight the enormous influence we have allowed oil to have on our standard of living. In so doing, we are provided with the knowledge of what the future holds if we can’t break free.

The book commences with a race through the last 150 years of oil growth and dependency in 30 short pages. The aim is to show that this timeframe is a blink-of-the-eye in terms of human evolution, and whilst we feel completely reliant on this energy source, we did not even know it existed in 1850. How did we let one product completely rule our world?

The chapters that follow describe the American’s love for their cars. The transport obsession has been created by skilled advertising, heavy-handed lobbying, and dirty business tactics, added to the very real question of how to move around such an expansive nation.

While the book is mainly US-centric, it still provides enough world vision to be relevant to a UK audience. The book describes the fateful moments in history, such as Winston Churchill’s decision to switch Britain’s naval fleet to oil power, rather than coal, tying Britain’s international security to foreign energy supplies for the first time.

Energy security is discussed consistently throughout, tying the whole world together, led by a tiny minority of powerful multi-national corporations.

From a starting point of celebrating the vast lifestyle improvements that oil has created for the world, the author slowly reveals darker secrets and the reality of what oil production means for developing nations. While a company may behave well in a developed country, there is severe environmental and political degradation allowed in countries without sufficient legal protection.

Its SUV-focus returns in the final chapter, where hydrogen power is defined as a ultimate solution to transport for America.

Whilst the later chapters of this book are already sliding out of date, the historical message it portrays has never been more relevant. Most international news stories relate in some way to oil, and understanding how we got here will help us to recognise this love affair for what it is.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has limited knowledge of the oil industry.

Firstly, because it is a very readable short story about something we should all know about, seeing as we are all so deeply reliant on it. I have no idea how I reached the age I did without this knowledge.

Secondly, because it puts a human face on our oil and gas use. War, corruption and human rights abuses follow oil money across the developing world. While the author never states it, we, as rich western consumers, are responsible for this human tragedy.

Whilst this may be a short guide for people with attention-deficit disorder, It has whetted my appetite for his recommended reading list, in particular, Daniel Yergin’s  The Prize and Anthony Sampson’s The Seven Sisters.

Find this book at your local library, and give it a go.

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