Crude World is not the kind of paperback you’d expect to appear on the national bestsellers list. After all, how interesting could a book about oil get? Indeed, at first glance, Crude World doesn’t promise a read half as slick as its subject matter. Thanks to author Peter Maass’ easy style of writing, however, it is a startlingly engrossing and provocative work about the far-reaching geopolitical and humanitarian impact of the oil industry.
Channeling a bit of a doomsday sayer (otherwise known as the Chicken Little complex), Maass opens his book with the topic of impending scarcity and tripling oil prices, which flies in the face of Cornucopian economics—that human ingenuity, through technology, can sustain the increasing demand for a limit supply of natural resources and thus counteract the possibility of an apocalypse when the supply runs out. It doesn’t really matter which school of thought you subscribe to, though, as the succeeding sections focus largely on the troubles of the here and now rather than the future.
Maass, a contributing writer to The New York Times magazine, makes a strong point about the reality of the “resource curse,” which refers to the paradox where countries with abundant natural, non-renewable resources tend to be worse off economically. Taking readers on a dreary, painful trip into the most backwater pockets of oil-rich nations including Nigeria, Iraq, Ecuador and Equatorial Guinea, he documents humanitarian injustices and violence perpetuated by despot rulers who pocket millions of dirty money from oil behemoths, passing on the high cost of the world’s reliance on oil to oppressed civilians by depriving them of the social and developmental infrastructure needed to make a humane living. A particularly interesting section of the book is where it captures the change oil wrought on the physical, social and political landscape of Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil. It even delves into the role of oil in Osama bin Laden’s rise to power and influence.
For short-term relief, Maass prescribes a revisit of social values and heightened transparency in oil contracts to curtail bribes and corruption, but like the uncontrollable spread of grease on the water’s surface after an oil spill, it is near impossible to stem the negative ramifications of oil. And coupled with its foothold as the “oxygen of the global economy,” there are no quick fixes. Maass makes an impassioned call for us to reduce our dependency on oil and tap into renewable energy sources, if for no other reason, for the sole purpose of reducing the harm inflicted on the countries that produce it. Beyond being a relentlessly absorbing read, Crude World is a story of deceit, greed and tragedy.
Published by Warner US
Price: S$17.12 (w GST)
Available at all major bookstores.