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Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  813 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
What do subprime mortgages, Atlantic salmon dinners, SUVs and globalization have in common?

They all depend on cheap oil. And in a world of dwindling oil supplies and steadily mounting demand around the world, there is no such thing as cheap oil. Oil might be less expensive in the middle of a recession, but it will never be cheap again.

Take away cheap oil, and the global ec
Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 28th 2010 by Vintage Canada (first published 2009)
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Jeff Rubin GETS it. From the very beginning of our energy relationship with the hydrocarbon, we have consistently failed to account for the environmental and social impacts of burning it. Western countries in particular built consumer empires of fantasy fulfillment through conspicuous (and inefficient) consumption of oil, and through every periodic crisis of supply, we continue to believe the fiction that politics or technology was the bottleneck hampering its limitlessness.

More recently, we bla
Jun 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Although this is yet another peak-oil book, this one isn't all doom and gloom. (At least, not for those in developed countries.) Two things I particularly liked:

1. The explanation of how rising oil prices are going to affect globalization. (Pretty much reverse it).

2. The explanation of how, from a purely selfish economic point of view, a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system would be advantageous for developed countries.

Both of these explanations were very clear, and followed logically from his ass
Keith Akers
Sep 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a generally good book about oil depletion and its economic effects. I came to it already familiar with the concept of "peak oil," but I think it is a good basic explanation of what peak oil is and what its effects will be.

Rubin's take is that this is the end of globalization. Suddenly, cheap plastic toys from China are going to get a lot more expensive, as China's labor advantage (much less costly than American workers) is overwhelmed by the disadvantage of transporting it. We'll have to
Mar 14, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment
I read this only after reading his later book 'The End of Growth', where he continued to expound on the ideas and themes in this earlier work providing updates since then. Though I was already familiar with the premise of oil scarcity resulting in the reversal of globalization, I did again enjoy Rubin's style of writing - frank and candid, with an occasional flair for ironic humor. I should say however, that this book provides a more well rounded and comprehensive introduction to the underpinnin ...more
Sep 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: made-me-think
An accessible and often engaging introduction for the layperson (and I am definitely a layperson on these topics) on the concept of "peak oil" and the effects that diminishing oil supplies will have on the world we live in, where cheap transportation costs have enabled a large degree of globalization. There are some interesting tangents in the book, as well - a few pages on coffee were particularly interesting. I had no idea that Lloyd's of London could trace its history back to a coffeehouse na ...more
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Peak Oil. If you have not heard the term, look it up and absorb all the information you can find, because in the next few decades, Peak Oil is going to drastically change the world as we know it.

The thing I truly enjoyed about this book is that the author does not take a "Gloom & Doom" outlook on Peak Oil and the end of Globalization. According to him, as oil prices raise to insane levels, it will be the exact inspiration that we have needed to return to simple living and self-sufficiency as
Amy M
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian, nonfiction
A must-read for sure. I found this book to be both engaging and easy to read (which is always a positive for non-fiction!). It is a few years out of date, published in 2009, but I'm sure Rubin is/was spot on with his assessments and predictions for the economy. I'm even more convinced now that we as a society need to stop twiddling our thumbs, wake up, and extricate ourselves from oil and other fossil fuels.
Mar 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
An engaging and entertaining book that suffers from repetition and some poorly thought out arguments, particularly in its second half, which feels a little gadfly-ish.

Rubin does a good job of making some very complex issues (the economic implications of peak oil) pretty clear and overall achieves what he sets out to do, which is prove why localization rather than globalization is going to be the buzzword of the next generation. I particularly liked his summary of the evidence in favor of the pe
Jeff Crunk
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: energy
This book is about oil depletion and its economic repercussions. It's about a watershed event in history that many refer to as “peak oil.” Just as 16th century European cartographers tried to construct complete maps of the world from fragmentary reports of the known, Ruben's book is a map of the broad contours of the Second Hydrocarbon Age, something that you are already living in. The First Hydrocarbon Age is already in the books. We just mostly don't appreciate that fact, yet.

Useful energy. I
Jul 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rubin's book is all about one thing: oil. More importantly, it presents the argument that we're running out of oil, and that's going to have far-ranging consequences. "Peak oil" doesn't mean that there's going to be absolutely no oil left, but that oil is going to become far more expensive to acquire and to refine. The oil shocks of 2008, Rubin argues, weren't a blip but the new reality, and the only reason oil prices have come down recently is because of the recession. As soon as the economy pi ...more
Donna Parker
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd rather give this a, wow, I'm scared to death of the world my child is going to inherit from the past few generations of me-me's who have systemically raped and pillaged this planet for a quick buck star rating. Come on people, this is ridiculous, we've globalized ourselves to death. While this is a great read, it is also depressing. I can see why so many people stick their heads in the sand, enable corporations and elect governments that make it easy for them to take trips, drive here, there ...more
Mike Smith
Jul 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is about the coming oil shortage, a phenomenon known as peak oil. The issue, as author Rubin makes clear, is not that we will run out of oil anytime soon, but that oil will become more and more expensive as supply fails to match demand. This book is a bit dry, with a lot of figures trotted out, percentages and prices of this and that rising and falling as peak oil plays out. It would have benefitted from some charts or diagrams to illustrate the predicted trends. The book covers pretty ...more
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics-fin
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cyrus Shahriari
In hindsight, I downgraded my rating from 2012. It appears Jeff Rubin was wrong in his predictions at least in the medium term. My original review is included below:

To some readers, Jeff Rubin may sound like an Alarmist concerning the world's rising energy costs, especially the price of oil. In this book, he makes the case that "oil prices, not delinquent subprime mortgages, are what brought down the global economy," Page 185. In fact, one can notice a spike in Brent barrel petroleum spot prices
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very thought-provoking book. The author details all the ways our current society is built around cheap oil. Transportation is obvious, but he then goes into all the aspects of our society that must have cheap oil to continue. Food, our restaurants, vacations, communications, personal electronics, etc. It is a given to most of us that everything we buy is built somewhere outside of the US. What happens when oil gets into triple digit prices per barrel? That model breaks down quickly. Rather than ...more
Dec 12, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle says it all: this book is about "oil and the end of globalization". This was definitely an interesting read, and I found it very accessible. Rubin manages to maintain a conversational tone without sounding condescending. I appreciated the fact that while some parts of the book were disturbing (like the description of how the car companies deliberately destroyed public transit), there's a lot of optimism here too. There are aspects of Rubin's predicted future that certainly seem like ...more
Brian Connell
Mar 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A presentation of the case that oil supply is dwindling (and becoming more expensive to obtain) in the face of global rising demand, and what the resultant "triple digit oil" prices might mean to our current way of life which relies on the reduction of distance due to historically cheap oil (globalization). Facts and drawn conclusions are laid out in a simple, logical, straight forward manner (although repeated a bit over the course of the book). The pro's and con's of the changes identified are ...more
Richard Beaty
An interesting presentation of the impact of energy prices on economies and globalization, including how the triple digit oil prices were the beginning of the recession we are in, not just the banks and housing bubbles. Well written but a little repetitive. Good data and thinking as to why oil (and all energy) is going to get a lot more expensive and why the age of cheap energy is gone and how this will impact our lives, how the age of a global economy will change to a local economy and why infl ...more
Aug 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Superb look at oil and its impact on both energy prices and the world market. I have to heartily disagree with some of the other reviews that said "he just keeps saying the same thing over and over": yes, his thesis that the world is about to get a whole lot smaller is the focus, but the author presents several compelling and insightful arguments to back this up. Just like any real-world situation, there are many angles to look at, and this book does a fine job of examining many of these angles, ...more
Interesting and well backed up economic (and otherwise forecast) about the implications of a world post peak oil. Rubin knows his stuff and shows in no uncertain terms how the decline of oil (and hence rise in oil prices) will affect the globalized world. But what's even better is his optimism that this post oil world will become a more local and sustainable alternative. And best, of course, is that he backs up his claims with real life examples and stats of how this has worked (to some extent) ...more
Tin Wee
Dec 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is amazingly easy to read. The basic premise is that oil underpins modern economy - it is essential to making plastics, affects all transportation costs and is thus part of the cost of virtually every commodity in the modern world. It is also getting scarcer, with major oil wells being depleted and new sources of oil like tar sands nowhere near the production of the oil wells in the middle east. The book presents an argument that as oil becomes scarcer and more valuable, we will become ...more
Dec 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a breath of fresh air: someone laying out the facts and engaging in a logical presentation of various consequences and potential outcomes. No sugar-coating, but also no alarmist drama. For someone like me who doesn't need a lot of convincing, Rubin does seem to repeat himself, using multiple metaphors and examples to keep driving home the key points, but it obviously bears repeating (be sure to read the introduction). Happily his tone never seemed patronizing, so I didn't mind. He also demo ...more
Richard Thompson
The back cover features a long quote from the book: “We must reengineer our lives to adapt to a world of growing energy scarcity. And that means learning to live using less energy. While much could go terribly wrong in this transition, don’t be surprised if we find more than a few silver linings in the process. And don’t be surprised if the new smaller world that emerges isn’t a lot more livable and enjoyable than the one that we are about to leave behind.” Unfortunately, although there are hint ...more
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 Stars. There is an immortal military maxim that rings true: "Amateurs talk about strategy; professionals talk about logistics." There's a lot of talk about globalisation and economical cycles among pundits, but this book told something different. The caveat of the book is that it was cheap oil that powers the logistics of the globalised world, and it is the end of cheap oil and the era of triple-digit prices that will herald the end of globalisation. This, in the author's prediction, will re ...more
Paul Lawton
Jan 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: work
Consequences of rising oil prices on transportation, global trade, food production, global warming (burning less oil leads to fewer carbon dioxide emissions; a good thing from a global warming perspective), and suburban living arrangements.

It isn't just that we are running out of oil, but that we are running out of oil that we can afford to burn. Rubin sees the return of factory jobs to Western economies when the cost of burning oil includes not only the price of buying the fuel, but also the p
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: General public, those with limited economics understanding, globalisation observers
Recommended to Nic by: Australian Financial Review Book review (
Noted economist Jeff Rubin delivers a readable list of problems facing 21st century earth as oil diminishes whilst demand is forecast to grow.

The list of problems includes the politics of oil, irrational consumer behaviour, corporate influence and geo-political power. This list is by no means exhaustive and grows as the book evolves.

I would strongly recommend the book to those just wanting a basic guide to digest the relationship of oil to your everyday life, and the book is probably better suit
Sep 26, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: big thinkers, urban planners, open minded realists
The book was an easy read, and provided a lot of facts to back up the main premise - that globalization is about to come to a crashing halt due to increasing scarcity of oil. I enjoyed most of the book, however the conclusion was the most interesting. The author takes an example of a remote, yet fossil-fuel dependent fishing resort in the Yukon Territory, and describes how rising fuel costs will devastate the resort's basic business model. I didn't like the author's assumptions in the last regul ...more
May 26, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The premise of this book is that we have reached peak oil, and from now on, we can expect oil supplies to dwindle and prices to go up. This will bring about the end of globalization, because we will no longer be able to afford the increased cost of shipping goods around the world. I tend to accept the premise and the conclusion. I gave the book 3 stars because, once the premise and conclusion were stated, there really just wasn't much else to it. It just seemed to keep saying the same things ove ...more
Jul 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a good introductory summary; there's not a lot new here, but what is here is well summed up. The funny thing is, all the stuff he's bemoaning the loss of -- suburbs, driving everywhere, globalized trade and the death of local culture -- are things I won't be sad to see go.

My other complaint: aside from one quick throwaway acknowledgment, his entire portrait is a doom-and-gloom assumption that we're all going to say, well, that's it for cheap oil, let's all go home and live in medieval villa
Brian Ross
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It doesn't hurt to know some economics, but Rubin does an excellent job of cataloguing the forces at work and then connecting the dots to likely outcomes. The power of the book is not so much iterating the (so some) alarmiong trneds, but rather pointing out where they may lead, and how we can (and must) adapt. In this regard, the book runs parallel to some recent work on climate change, which has moved on from describing the danger and trying to prevent it, to concluding that the consequences ar ...more
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“At the end of the day, we supported globalization because we wanted to be able to buy cheaper computers, cheaper vehicles, cheaper clothes and cheaper furniture. Wal-Mart parking lots were jammed with North American workers buying bargain-basement-priced goods made in China even if in the process they were shopping themselves right out of their own jobs.” 3 likes
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