Yeomans, Matthew. Oil: Anatomy of an Industry. 2004. The New Press. New York, USA & london, UK.

Don’t be deceived by the light and breezy style of this USA journalist – this is a serious and useful work. Single substance topics have become very popular with writers; everything from salt to saffron gets a book of its own. But few substances are as important and universal as oil and Yeomans does an excellent survey, from a USA perspective, of elaborating the significance of oil in our daily lives; he details the history, geography and geopolitics and global oil supplies and use. Whatever the USA does to satisfy its addiction to petroleum affects the whole world.

“The oil industry has dominated global affairs for nearly 150 years. Most of that time, it has been controlled by a small cadre of powerful companies and producing nations that have set prices and production levels to maximize their profits.” P. 217

In 1859 “rock oil” was discovered in the USA and its usefulness as a source of light, measured by the original developer, Edwin Drake, in whisky barrels of 42 USA gallons – about 150 l. – still the standard measurement of today when 75 million barrels are consumed every 24 hours.

Since then, the USA has become the world’s most powerful nation while it consumes one-quarter of global oil production. Yeomans explains how from Colombia to Canada, from Iraq to Kazakhstan, oil dictates USA foreign and military policy and implementation. Addictions must be fed and new addictions created – from the love of the automobile to air conditioning and plastics – and so oil must not only be obtained, but as Yeomans makes clear, the addict must control the flow. And he is very clear about the dangers of a USA government and society addicted to the power of petroleum.

“Never before has the United States, and the world, needed the strong leadership of a president who can resist partisan politics and the funding of special oil interests to move the Unites States beyond oil.” P. 157

The present USA government is totally controlled by oil interests, the citizens of the USA need to recognize these dangers and change their government.

Much of what this book says is not new, but it is good to have the facts, context and illustrations all organized in one book and it helps those us outside the USA, but linked to by a complex oil-based politic, to understand this domineering global power.

Yeomans says that only conservation, a drastic curtailing of the consumption of oil will save the USA and modern life everywhere on earth. Alternate energy may develop, more efficient vehicles will be sold, but only reduction in use will really help and that requires a major re–thinking of everything from public transit to militarization.

This book is a good resource with many references for further research. It helps us understand the driven mentality of the all USA governments and forces us to examine our own assumptions about our right to consume the material goodies of our lifestyle.

Filed under Book Reviews, Matthew Yeomans