The Squeeze: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century

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The Squeeze: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century by Tom Bower, book reviewThe Squeeze: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century by Tom Bower is detailed account of the activities of the oil industry, with particular focus on the oil majors, during the later part of the 20th century, and into the 21st century. With unprecedented access to sources within Big Oil and around the industry, Bower has constructed a detailed and action packed account of a necessary but disliked industry.

The Squeeze has a heavy focus on the oil majors, such as BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron and Mobil, but also looks at the smaller companies, service companies trader which surround the oil majors, generally known as Big Oil. Examination of the companies is closely tied to examination of their directors and executives, which is turn is connected to their dealings with governments and politicians.

Most chapters have a particular focus, whether on an oil majors attempts to gain access to a country, one of the many financial and environmental mistakes made over the years, or on a top trader “squeezing” the market. However, a chapter focussing on one oil major will inevitably touch on another major, as their activities are all inextricably linked, whether they like it or not. One corporation having success in Russia, for example, is a catalyst for others trying to get into the country.

The subtitle of the book, Oil, Money & Greed in the 21st Century is rather misleading. The book covers the last quarter of the 20th century, and the 21st century up to 2009. The majority of The Squeeze focuses on the 1990s and beyond, but it is certainly more than just the 21st century.

What is truly interesting about The Squeeze is that no one is safe. It is hard to determine Bower’s personal stance on the oil industry from the book, which is possibly an indication that this is an unbiased work. He often paints a particular director in a favourable light, only to bring them crashing down again when appalling judgement causes things to go badly wrong, such as the explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery. However, it is not only the directors and executives, and indeed the corporations as a whole, which come under fire. To go to the opposite end of the spectrum, the environmental organisation Greenpeace is also not safe. Although Bower rarely explicitly attacks his targets, Greenpeace is presented in a none-too-favourable light following their gross misjudgement of the amount of oil held in Shell’s Brent Spar oil storage buoy in 1995 during the dispute about disposal of the buoy. Equally damning, politicians are often revealed as corrupt, and even the US and UK politicians are flagged up as being inconsistent.

The sheer volume of detail contained within The Squeeze is astounding. Bower has had unprecedented access to sources within and around the industry, and as such is able to include numerous details of internal communications, finances and the oil majors plans.

While reading a book about the oil industry may not seem like a lot of fun, The Squeeze reads extremely well. Very shortly after the start, Bower gets right into the action and excitement of the deals and disasters which characterise the industry, and the book reads rather like a thriller, with multiple villains. Although jam-packed with engineering and financial details, these are all simply explained so that a reader with no knowledge of the industry can appreciate the full story.

As someone who has worked in oilfield services companies for a large part of my career, I was very interested in reading The Squeeze. Although my company was mentioned really only in passing on various occasions, and generally in a positive or neutral light, I find myself questioning the industry I work in.

The Squeeze is likely to appeal more to those who have some knowledge of the oil industry, but it is a book which is accessible to all, and which will give readers a greater understanding of the money and power games behind our daily fuel needs.

The Squeeze: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century by Tom Bower
Published by Harper Press, August 2010
Many thanks to Harper Press for providing a review copy.

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Squeeze, The: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century
by Tom Bower

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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