Posted by: Kate | September 9, 2010

Summer Reading

One of the great things about camping and going to the lake/river/ocean a lot this summer was that I got to read. I managed to stock up on books from the library, many of which had been on my reading list for a while. Before I get back into the swing of school schedules, I thought I’d go back and review some of my favourite, or interesting, summer reads.

Crude World, The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass

This book is both a critique of our global dependence on oil and an in-depth look at the countries where oil is gathered. Peter Maass is an experienced journalist, and travelled extensively to research this book – this shows in the writing and information. He looks at some of the largest oil-supplying countries in the world, and asks if life is any better there for having this precious resource. He deliberately leaves Norway and Canada off the list, as they are countries with stable governments and a lot of legal involvement in the capture of oil. However, he looks at many of the world’s top oil-producing countries, including Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Ecuador, Russia and Iraq.

“If you want to alter the behavior of an executive who usually follows the highest ethical standards, just give him a briefcase and tell him that his job depends on his winning an oil contract in a country that is not Norway.”

I found this book fascinating. This was an area of oil we don’t hear about – the cost to the countries that produce it, whether it be environmental, social or cultural. It provides a revealing look at how oil has affected these countries in different ways. I learned a great deal, and was left wondering how the future will play out. The dealings of the major companies and governments involved calls into question our own responsibilities as well. Do we have a responsibility to those whose lives are twisted by this fuel we are all dependent on?

His section on Iraq was intriguing, as he was there during the beginning of the war and has some clear observations. While many people there, both soldiers and Iraqis, thought the war was really about oil, Maas found that the oil regions were left to founder. There was no clear direction to take over the production areas or even to protect them, and it created a great deal of confusion, as well as violent altercations, on both sides.

“Just as America had other concerns when it invaded, Iraqis killed each other for reasons distinct from petroleum. But without a doubt, oil was a violence-inducing intoxicant for the people who lived atop it as well as the foreigners who desired it. The country has too much for its own good. It seems reasonable to consider that the fighting may not stop until the wells run dry.”

Maass is definitely a reporter who goes into the field; he interviewed as many people on all sides of the debates and visited as many of the areas as he could. This adds a depth to the book that I certainly appreciated. He also happens to be a very good writer, taking you on a journey with care and passion. This book opened my eyes to the complexities of a world dependent on oil beyond the environmental concerns.

As an aside, the book came out just before the big oil rig explosion and subsequent leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Maass talks about BP, the company that owns the well, in the book. Thinking I’d like to hear his thoughts on this event, I found his blog. Some really interesting things there. I followed a link to this article, which touches on a lot of the topics in the book.


  1. wow kate, this sounds really interesting.
    i’m suddenly feeling guilty for whiling away my summer reading “the song of ice and fire series” about knights, dragons, etc…. :)

  2. Wow…apparently you aren’t one for light summer reading! This sounds pretty fascinating…not sure if I’d ever get around to picking it up but I am glad you gave the link to the author’s blog…still can get some of his perspectives but in short sound bites!

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