Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Oil, Power, and War: A Dark History

Rate this book
In this sweeping, unabashed history of oil, Matthieu Auzanneau takes a fresh, thought-provoking look at the way oil interests have commandeered politics and economies, changed cultures, disrupted power balances across the globe, and spawned wars. He upends commonly held assumptions about key political and financial events of the past 150 years, and he sheds light on what our oil-constrained and eventually post-oil future might look like.

Oil, Power, and War follows the oil industry from its heyday when the first oil wells were drilled to the quest for new sources as old ones dried up. It traces the rise of the Seven Sisters and other oil cartels and exposes oil's key role in the crises that have shaped our times: two world wars, the Cold War, the Great Depression, Bretton Woods, the 2008 financial crash, oil shocks, wars in the Middle East, the race for Africa's oil riches, and more. And it defines the oil-born trends shaping our current moment, such as the jockeying for access to Russia's vast oil resources, the search for extreme substitutes for declining conventional oil, the rise of terrorism, and the changing nature of economic growth.

We meet a long line of characters from John D. Rockefeller to Dick Cheney and Rex Tillerson, and hear lesser-known stories like how New York City taxes were once funneled directly to banks run by oil barons. We see how oil and power, once they became inextricably linked, drove actions of major figures like Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, Kissinger, and the Bushes. We also learn the fascinating backstory sparked by lesser-known but key personalities such as Calouste Gulbenkian, Abdullah al-Tariki, and Marion King Hubbert, the once-silenced oil industry expert who warned his colleagues that oil production was facing its peak.

Oil, Power, and War is a story of the dreams and hubris that spawned an era of economic chaos, climate change, war, and terrorism--as well as an eloquent framing from which to consider our options as our primary source of power, in many ways irreplacable, grows ever more constrained.

The book has been translated from the highly acclaimed French title, Or Noir.

672 pages, ebook

First published March 19, 2015

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Matthieu Auzanneau

7 books6 followers
Matthieu Auzanneau is the director of The Shift Project, a European think tank focusing on energy transition and the resources required to make the shift to an economy free from fossil fuel dependence, and also from greenhouse gas emissions. Previously he was a journalist, based in France, and mostly writing for Le Monde. He continues to write his Le Monde blog, Oil Man, which he describes as “a chronicle of the beginning of the end of petroleum.” The original French edition of this book, Or Noir: La grande histoire du pétrole, was awarded the Special Prize of the French Association of Energy Economists in 2016.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
101 (60%)
4 stars
49 (29%)
3 stars
14 (8%)
2 stars
4 (2%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 24 of 24 reviews
Profile Image for Bimal Patel.
202 reviews13 followers
October 26, 2018
Oil, Power and War is probably going to be the new definitive history of Oil. I wouldn't say it replaces Daniel Yergin's The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, a Pulitzer Prize winner but it certainly builds upon Yergin's book with some modifications. For example, Yergin's book talks about the story of Oil till only 1980 and even then only from the perspective of those who were winners in this game. Matthieu Auzanneau's book continues the story up to most recent times and how Oil has been influential in shaping the political and economic environment. Make no mistake even at 600 pages, shorter than Yergin's book at 900 pages it is still full of facts, and who's who and timelines that the reader is better advised to keep track of as he or she moves from page to page. The plethora of characters resembles that of some russian literature say Anna Karenina but if you really read it without extended breaks I am sure you can keep track of them. The chapters are broken down in short topics that keeps it interesting. Needless to say the book takes you all the way from origin of Oil at organic level to its uses and how it has, it is and will probably continue shaping our world's political, cultural, social, industrial and military situation. The oil dubbed Black Gold indeed has been a single most vital natural resource surpassing King Coal to give us the world we inhibit now. It would be hard to find a single entity, a single object that does not have finger prints of petroleum in its origin.

Overall, this book I think is an extension of it's predecessor The Prize and definitely adds way more information on the current situation as it relates to Oil. With that being said if you are deciding to pick up a definitive book on the biography of Oil and its influence, I would recommend you pick up this new book Oil, Power and War as it is most current on the subject.
December 16, 2018
Bottom line: the global war for dwindling energy resources is here and we’ll see more and more of it in the future. Syria, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine — it’s all ultimately about energy security and attempts to preserve the accustomed way of life, the life of consumption and unprecedented prosperity. But in the end, you can’t fool geology. In my lifetime, will I see the Euro-American coalition invading my neighboring Russia, as did Napoleon and Hitler before, while in the process again nearly destroying my home country of Belarus? Well, I say it’s a possibility. And yes, there is the sleeping dragon of China. What would China do? Democracy, human rights, liberty - in the world of increasing competition for bloody energy it's destined to become (as it has, and it is, elsewhere, actually) but a hollow words.

The book is plain terrific. It tells the story of oil industry shaping the world and our everyday lives, of economy and politics inextricably being one and the same, of global powers struggling to secure access to the most important raw material on the planet - oil. If you want to make sense of current affairs and, more importantly, how we got here- read it.
May 26, 2021
probably one of the most underrated books ive ever read. Full of heat. Starts by summarizing Batille's theory of energy, goes on to compare similarities in the writing of Marx and John D. Rockefeller, eventually leads into a deep dive of the Bush dynasty, and makes you as Baku obsessed as Pynchon was.
Profile Image for Hugh Owens.
32 reviews
January 17, 2019
atthieu Auzanneau has written the definitive history of oil, far eclipsing the authors who preceded him, notably Daniel Yergin who wrote THE PRIZE in 1991. Yergin's book, now very dated covers similar ground up to about 1990. Yergin's book emphasizes the importance and positive aspects of the rise of and importance of the oil industry in transforming the industrial civilization and he is even today a consultant to the world's oil production titans. He is often portrayed as the authoritative voice of the oil industry broadly brushed.. His predictions of oil demand and supply along with the EIA and IEA have long dominated the discussion over policies of oil extraction and supply. He has been exceedingly well paid as a spokesman of big oil and the conflict of interest should be obvious. An independent analyst he is not. Auzanneau, a French citizen, stands in sharp contrast to Yergin and covers similar ground as did Yergin but delves far deeper into the history and importance of oil and gives a far clearer picture of the people and events behind the rise of the industrial economy fueled by oil. Where Yergin in his readable style gives a history of oil, Auzanneau gives a history of the importance of oil as the fundamental basis of wealth and military power and the bedrock of the world economic system. In addition he fills in the 30 year gap from the publication of Yergin's The Prize.
Fundamentally the book is a behind the scenes look at the origins of the oil industry from John D Rockefeller of Standard Oil and his necessarily tight relationships with financial Tycoons like JP Morgan. The economic and industrial power of the oil industry allied with the military and political power of the federal government expanded into an empire seeking to control access to oil resources far distant from the dusty windswept plains of Texas and Oklahoma. He covers the other European and Asian competitors also striving for dominance of oil supplies as all sought to monopolize access to The Prize. The book is filled with fascinating anecdotes of the major players in the industries and the palace intrigues of world political leaders. There is a long section on the role of oil in wars of the last century and the 21st century as well. The lesson I learned is that most of the wars were over and about oil. The victors were victorious because they had oil. The losers lost because they didn't. For example Germany's military aircraft technology was equal to or superior to American and British technology but the Germany's insufficient access to quality crude stocks and additives yielded fuel of inferior octane quality. The Luftwaffe's 90+ octane avgas was no match for the allies 130+ octane gasoline which delivered far higher performance. When the German military failed to secure Caspian ,Middle Eastern and Romanian oil fields, the war was lost. The same happened to Japan when their pipeline to the Indonesian oil was cut. Oil Power and War covers how the US CIA and Britain's MI6 maintained a stranglehold over Persian Gulf oil in the postwar period by bribes,secret cartels and Faustian agreements with the Middle East countries. This included Operation Ajax toppling Mohammad Mossadegh, the "father" of Iranian democracy in August 1953, and establishing "friendly" regimes aligned with their corporate and colonialist goals. The US played off one country against the other to make sure no country or leader achieved dominance or became too uppity challenging the established order of the giant independent oil majors. Eventually Persian Gulf leaders and tribes rebelled against the colonial powers and nationalized their industries, the situation that exists today. The US with its own domestic vast oil supplies dominated the world stage for much of the 20th century but as domestic resources waned our political and economic elites mounted a renewed power grab for Persian Gulf oil access laid out clearly in the Carter Doctrine which established the US as the policeman of the oil corridors. Auzanneau covers this in exquisite detail. The lies of the Bush and Cheney administration are laid out in stark detail. Dick Cheney shouted "It is not about oil!" He insisted It was about promoting democracy and preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction. It was about creating prosperity and spreading democratic western values. These are revealed as blatant lies as the war was solely about getting access to the last unsurveyed Iraqi oil fields which needed to go to American Oil companies after the invasion of Iraq. But the strategy to seize Iraq's oil failed. Civil war ensued. The entire region was thrown into chaos and irony of ironies, it was China who ended up with the bulk of the access. The picture Auzanneau portrays of America's feckless misadventures in the Middle East is not a pretty one. Shortly after the absurd "mission accomplished" Bush spectacle on the Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003, Madeline Albright was asked about the 500,000 children in Iraq who perished in the lead up to the war because of US bombs and sanctions. "Was it worth it?" she was asked. Secretary of State Albright did not hesitate. "Yes. It was worth it."
The books value lies not just in a fantastically detailed history of oil but in the importance of oil as the primary energy of our industrial civilization. Oil IS the economy and the control of Oil is power. Oil and energy use per capita is directly correlated with improved living standards, public health and achievements of medicine,democracy, women’s suffrage, education and technological advancement in the countries that possessed the access and the use of oil. But fossil oil is finite and as it depletes can the economy and these hard won societal achievements principally in the West, be preserved? These are questions Matthieu addresses and he offers his opinions which must be emphasized are his opinions. He does not suffer fools gladly and spares no punches with current world leaders. This will offend some readers and inform others. My opinion as an oil analyst is that his data and facts are unassailable in most cases . This book is the historical gold standard about oil history and anyone who wants to understand how the industrial world came into being and where its trajectory might land must read this 550 page masterpiece.
Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 1 book35 followers
January 20, 2019
A well researched and comprehensive coverage of the history of our affair with the master resource. The tale of oil is inextricably intertwined with the story of the 20th century when we look back at it, as it saw the spring, summer and autumn of oil production and usage. The discovery of black gold massively transformed the trajectory of our species resulting in the explosion of human population and economy until it threatens to smother all else on this finite Earth during the current century. The meteoric rise of oil was all too brief, spanning a mere couple of generations, and its decline would likely be as rapid, if not more so.

The author charts in detail the key characters in the development of oil, from John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil to the sheiks and dictators of the Middle East and Africa, the politicians, spooks and oil executives of the top oil companies. We would learn how America, so blessed with 'easy oil' reserves in the previous century, rode on a tidal wave of it to turn the tide of both World Wars so decisively. This was followed by what was termed 'the thirty glorious years' post war that saw economic growth rates of over 5% per year in the western economies. This all hit the wall in the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, brought about by the peaking of American domestic crude oil production and shifting of the center of activity to the middle-east, namely Saudi Arabia. Arguably the United States has never fully recovered since then and faced diminishing growth rates in the decades that followed, especially if one discounts the huge amount of debt used to try to regain that momentum, with poor results. Maintaining access to oil had been the name of the game since the 1980s as Iraq and Iran were manipulated into a prolonged war that weakened both sides and prevented their challenging of the American backed Saudis as the dominant world producer. American involvement has been constant, with the Gulf War and later all out invasion of Iraq as attempts to control the last reserves of conventional oil. In the final two chapters we are given extensive references to reports of worldwide decline of conventional crude oil production beginning about 2005 and more or less confirmed by 2010 - which marked the global peak. What prevented the doomsday scenario predicted by the Peak Oil crowd was of course the rapid development of unconventional oil from first the tar sands of Canada and then Shale oil in the U.S. The author did not dismiss the importance of these outright but hinted repeatedly at the very different and more difficult operations involved that make the sustained production from these sources very questionable. The jury is very much out on how long they would postpone the inevitable decline in total world production. The high oil prices needed to kick start similar projects in other parts of the world would trigger economic recession as it did in 2008. Here the book ends, with a mention of the simplified global economy and down scaling of human civilization to follow as oil production per person shrinks back to the levels of the early 1900s.

One subject which I felt not discussed sufficiently is the concept of energy return on energy invested or EROEI. Though there was some philosophical musing on the laws of thermodynamics, namely maximum entropy theory and how life and economies are energy dissipative structures, it would have been useful to put the latest development of unconventional oil sources in the EROEI framework. The currency of nature is energy, not dollars, so even if it makes financial sense to fracture rocks for oil, it may not in terms of the energy required to do so.

Otherwise, like all historical works, there are sections that would be dry to certain readers and overly detailed and draggy. Overall though if one was merely interested in the prognosis of what may come, one could conceivably skip the majority of the book and read the last part.
83 reviews1 follower
April 28, 2020
Livre intéressant qui nous eclaire en détails sur l'histoire du pétrole et celle des pays qui l'exploitent (en premier lieu les US et la standard oil de Rockefeller). Beaucoup de raisons géopolitiques liées à l'or noir expliquent les événements majeurs du 20 et 21eme siècle (seconde guerre mondiale, guerre froide, guerre du golfe, irak, crises petrolieres, grande depression, crise des subprimes, montee du terrorisme, conflit israelo palestinien..) avec ses obscures manigances, le rôle de la CIA, des hommes clés peu scrupuleux et l'appât du gain et du pouvoir..
Alors que le pétrole facile a passé son pic, de nouvelles méthodes d'extraction font surface (offshore, profond, pétrole de roche mère), mais l'humanité qui en 100 ans a fait un bond technologique, sociale et à vu sa population explosée grâce à l'énergie, va devoir s'adapter pour vivre plus simplement et faire face aux enjeux environnementaux.
Roman très riche, peut être trop (plus de 800 pages), ce qui rend la lecture un peu fastidieuse a certains moments et m'a empêché de me concentrer sur les passages plus importants et d'en retenir l'essentiel.
Profile Image for Fred.
2 reviews
August 21, 2017
Nous pensons tout savoir de l'importance du pétrole dans nos vies n'est ce pas ? Attendez de lire ce monument dédié à l'histoire du pétrole. J'ai appris et surtout compris tellement de choses en lisant ce livre. Hitler faisant la meme erreur que Napoléon en ouvrant le front de l'est ? Erreur Stratégique absurde ? nah .. il avait un besoin vital du pétrole de Bakou. Nixon qui décide d'indexer les capacités de la banque centrale à émettre de la monnaie non plus adossées aux réserves d'or de l'Amérique mais sur les réserves de brut auxquelles les USA ont accès, ouvrant ainsi les robinets de la folie consommatrice qui vont dévorer notre planète ..

Le pétrole est à l'origine de tout l'ere moderne pour le meilleur et le pire : son extraordinaire évolution qui a engendré tant de confort, les guerres inhérentes à la sécurisation des réserves de brut et le dérèglement du climat. Un vrai pacte de Faust avec le passé récent et futur de l'humanité.

Une chose est sûre .. mais malheureusement partagé par si peu de personnes .. On devrait y regarder à 10 fois avant de consommer chaque goutte de pétrole.

Lisez ce livre. il est remarquable, passionnant et même .. divertissant
Profile Image for Keane Gleeson.
9 reviews1 follower
July 26, 2020
Great detailed dive into the inter workings of oil embedded in geopolitical struggle. Reading this book makes me feel ashamed to be an American after learning of the history of the US’s meddling in other countries for the end goal of claiming a stake in hydrocarbons. It was interesting to learn more about Britain, Netherlands, and France’s history in fighting to keep control of oil reserves. I had read the Prize by Daniel Yergin, and this book exceeds the story told in that book. This was a very eye-opening book
February 3, 2019
It was an absolutely amazing book about the probably most serious issue of humanity ever. After reading it I could understand the point of view of some conspiracy theories - although this book contains only real data (I have checked several of them), and this is what makes it scary. All of the background infos were well put together to form a complete view of how power works, every little bit fit into its place well. I made me understand a lot of things I have lived through in my young years, I could call back a lot of news about distant civil wars in Africa, and I bet many of them are still powered by the same reasons today.
I have never been optimistic regarding our civilization's future, and Matthieu Auzanneau could not convince me to have more hope. I think this book should be used as a kind of schoolbook for anyone who has even the smallest part of decisionmaking.
5 reviews
January 25, 2020
I mainly read the last chapter because I was interested in how real and urgent peak oil (the beginning of the decline in oil production) would be, with implications for when I and society would need to make our lives less dependent on oil. The chapter provides an interesting history of oil production numbers, broken down by country as well as type (e.g. conventional, fracking), but as expected, it is hard to predict when peak oil will occur.
215 reviews6 followers
March 13, 2022
Passionnant ! Des premiers prix forés en Pennsylvanie au milieu du 19e siècle jusqu’à la guerre en Irak au début du 21e, Matthieu Auzanneau nous fait pénétrer dans les arcanes politiques et économiques du pétrole. La naissance de l’Opep, le rôle crucial du pétrole dans la Seconde guerre mondiale, le partenariat noué par les Etats-Unis avec l’Arabie Saoudite... autant d’épisodes étonnamment documentés et expliqués de façon pédagogique et d’une plume haletante.
Profile Image for Cristie Underwood.
2,275 reviews56 followers
November 12, 2018
Wow! That is the only way to describe this book. The author covered the effects of the oil industry on everything, including politics, economies, climate change, and war, amongst other things. I never considered how much oil controls our everyday life. The author presented this information in an easy to follow manner that was interesting to read.
Profile Image for James.
7 reviews
January 20, 2020
As someone who works within the oil and gas industry, reading this book was a real eye opener. I had some knowledge of the kind of political strive that oil has played within modern politics, but I had no idea how far it really went. If it's just history or middle Eastern or Western politics you're interested in, this book will satisfy all of those.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Cavanaugh.
367 reviews5 followers
May 6, 2019
Although not as impressive a piece of straightforward history as Yergin’s masterpieces ‘The Prize’ and ‘The Quest’, the book is nonetheless an important contribution that draws attention to the seamy, corrupt underside of the global oil economy.
31 reviews3 followers
October 13, 2021
Ce livre est très (trop?) Complet mais intéressant et édifiant.
Avoir moins d'information sur les divers investissements, prises de marchés et de contrôle des différentes compagnies aurait allégé le contenu.
9 reviews1 follower
December 25, 2019
Interesting perspective on links between oil and war, but the book was way too long, and some parts could have been condensed significantly
Profile Image for Clarke.
25 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2021
In depth history of oil & how it's shaped nations, companies, families, and wars
9 reviews
July 2, 2020
Despite being massive and a bit tedious at times, this is a telling account of how oil is an irresistible (although finite) energy source and how a handful of US companies very deliberately and sometimes deceitfully hooked what are now the most "developed" countries on the product.
Profile Image for Charles.
29 reviews4 followers
May 5, 2021
Impressionant et palpitant historique du pétrole, des premiers gisement au XIXème siècle à nos jours.
February 8, 2020
Un livre absolument excellent qui offre au lecteur toutes les clés pour comprendre la géopolitique mondiale actuelle. A sa lecture, on se rend compte que depuis les premieres découvertes, le pétrole s’est imposé comme la ressource la plus stratégique et la plus convoitée qui soit, pour le meilleur et pour le pire.
Profile Image for Jean-Pascal.
Author 11 books13 followers
April 19, 2015
Un livre passionnant et angoissant à la fois. On apprend beaucoup sans que jamais le ton ne se fasse didactique. On aurait plutôt envie d'approfondir certains chapitres et de dépasser le ton parfois journalistique qui préside, en particulier, aux exposés des liens entre politiques et affairistes.
348 reviews
May 20, 2018
Première partie un peu aride. Ca devient passionnant à partir de l'après-guerre. Très instructif bien sûr.
Displaying 1 - 24 of 24 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.