I really enjoyed this book on the "Russian oil wars" between Putin, the Yeltsin-era oligarchs, and Western energy companies. The situation is terrifyi...moreI really enjoyed this book on the "Russian oil wars" between Putin, the Yeltsin-era oligarchs, and Western energy companies. The situation is terrifying not because Putin is some sort of Darth Vader, but because it becomes agonizingly clear how little international resource development generates any real benefit for the average person; it's all a battle among the super-rich, be it in Russia, the U.S., the C.I.S., China, India, Africa or elsewhere.
I suspect Petrostate would be a bit dry for the average reader, but I found it fascinating. I've read elsewhere that the author may have misunderstood or misconstrued some of the technical details of petroleum and natural gas extraction and production. However, on the political stuff his details and references seem spot-on. I disagree with other reviewers who accuse Goldman of Russophobia; I think he praises Putin repeatedly for many of the things that Putin is good at. And given the nation that Putin inherited (following the incredibly corrupt Yeltsin years), I think there is much to admire about the man. But that doesn't change the fact that in international business terms Russia is now a de facto gangster state, or that Putin has essentially created a corrupt nationalized industry for the benefit of the few. There are huge ramifications for the balance of power not just in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, but across the globe. To be frank, this is some scary shit, even if you loooooooooooove Russia. I wouldn't be thrilled if U.S. business was exhibiting this kind of unchecked power...except, oh wait, it has tried, hasn't it? Mind-bogglingly scary stuff in this book. Looking ahead 20 years, I am not thrilled about the world that the next few generations of Americans *or* Russians is likely to inherit.(less)
I was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in this...moreI was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in this general topic area CAN'T SHUT UP ABOUT HOW FRIGGIN' GREAT IT IS. It is so often referenced in other books about the developments related to 9/11, Al Qaeda and military involvment in Iraq and Afghanistan that it's practically ubiquitous, and every time someone mentions it they have to mention it's oh-so-great. I was prepared to despise it, because I'm that way. Oh well. I was hugely disappointed by the fact that I have to stand somewhat in awe of it; it really is an impressive document. It's not one of those "compulsively readable" histories like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men, Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah, or Matthew Brzezinski's Red Moon Rising -- or even the same author's The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in an American Century, but it's completely packed with lots of information about obscure Afghan and American turns of fate that must have been kind of a bitch to get. It's meticulously referenced, and the afterword details all the ways the author feels he screwed up -- categorizing the corrections to the second edition, basically. Those are fascinating because they illuminate the way in which motivation in political history is difficult to gauge and may change from generation to generation or even year to year -- in particular, in this case, with the release of the 9/11 Commission's final report. In at least one case, for instance, discussion of using drone strikes was misplaced in the original text by a YEAR, because of a misrepresentation or mis-remembrance on Clinton's part, which was later corrected by the Commission. To his credit, Coll corrected it and called it out in the afterword. The overall events are (in broad strokes) nothing I didn't already know, but the specific machinations were fascinating and in far greater detail than I have seen represented elsewhere.