Monday, June 4, 2007

The Prize, by Yergin

"Behind every great fortune is a great crime." The fortunes discussed here involve oil. Two of the most interesting figures are Rockefeller Sr., who is portrayed as a miserly monopolist; and Gulbenkian, an Armenian philosopher and consummate businessman. Yergin's delightful tome also covers world leaders from Eisenhower--who stopped the British from re-taking the Suez Canal post-Nasser--to the Shah, who replaced, then jailed, Mossadegh. Getty, the muckrackers, and other historical figures are also mentioned in detail.

A major historical omission Yergin makes is that he fails to note Kermit Roosevelt's possible role in Operation Ajax, which is discussed in Perkins' _Confessions of an Economic Hit Man_. Still, the scope of this book is incredible. We learn that oil was around one dollar a barrel in the 1940's (meaning our addiction to "black gold" is fairly new); that BP is the successor to the nationalized Anglo-Persian Oil Company; that U.S. and British policy wished to prevent Anglo-Persian's oil from falling into Communist hands, making the new millennium's current events especially interesting; that one possible reason we, rather than the British, have a special relationship with Saudi Arabia may involve FDR's superior knowledge of Middle Eastern culture, as well as FDR's polio; that at one point, Venezuela supplied 55% of the U.S.'s oil (In 2007, Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela supply most of the U.S.'s oil); that Leavittown gave rise to suburbs (fun quote from its founder: "No man who owns his own house and lot can be a Communist. He has too much to do."); and much more. This book should be required reading in every history classroom in America. It enlivens history with its detailed depictions of characters who changed the course of world history. It is around 800 pages in paperback, and is, without question, worth the time investment.

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