This book is basically a geopolitical history of oil, from the day it was first
drilled out of Pennsylvania to the first Gulf War. The author follows the
fortunes of the oilmen and of their companies, but what makes the book
especially valuable is the way it reveals the impact of oil on international
politics. Oil rapidly became the fuel of the world economy, and that changed
its nature from just a commodity to a weapon for regional and planetary
supremacy. The business of oil slowly mutated into a government affair,
not just a company affair. This book basically retells the story of the world
in the last century as a series of events caused by the discovery, production
and consumption of oil.
Yergin does not talk enough about the role of oil in the Soviet Union. The socialist programs of the Soviet Union were basically subsidized with the revenues from oil throughout the 1980s. As long as the Soviet Union was receiving billions from oil importers, it could afford to fund an inefficient economy, a war in Afghanistan and insurgencies all over the world. Yegor Gaidar now thinks that the key event to signal the decline of the Soviet Union was the decision in 1985 by Saudi Arabia to increase oil production and let the price of oil fall. The oil revenues of the Soviet Union dried up, and the empire collapsed. That part of the story is missing from Yergin's book, possibly because in 1991 he didn't have the data.