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Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil    by Peter Maas order for
Crude World
by Peter Maas
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

The paradox of sitting on vast reserves of oil is that although this should be a windfall of gigantic proportions that would enable a country to do all sorts of wonderful things for its citizens, just the opposite is true.

Citing countries like Venezuela, Peter Maass writes that oil can distort rather than strengthen national institutions. We've seen this before, he explains. 'As the oil sector grows, farming and manufacturing may contract, unemployment may expand, inflation may rise due to the influx of revenues from oil sales, and the gap between rich and poor may widen.'

Not only does Maass show how this has happened in Chavez-era Venezuela, but he also takes the reader to Nigeria, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Russia, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia where, to a greater or lesser degree, the same scenario unfolded after oil was discovered and the recovery process began creating great wealth for some but not all of the country's citizens.

From the oil fields around the world to corporate board rooms and the oil ministries of the OPEC nations, the author follows the oil trail. Although it is an important commodity that has incited wars and created unfathomable wealth, oil is a slippery customer that defies the usual norms of interrogation.

'It is a commodity that is extracted, refined, shipped, and poured into your gas tank with few people seeing it,' writes Maass. 'It has no voice, body, army, or dogma of its own. It is invisible most of the time, but, like gravity, it influences everything we do.'

The book's title and most of its chapter headings (Plunder, Rot, Contamination, Greed, and Alienation) set the tone for this investigation of the negative influence oil has exerted on countries. Maas pulls no punches as he shares his research and the results of the interviews he conducted around the globe about oil's impact.

It's not a pretty picture he paints, but in light of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and similar accidents in other areas of the world, this is a canvas that everyone should view. The picture is not yet completed, but Peter Maass gives us enough to see that we are looking at something that should raise the hair on the back of our necks!

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