OIL, GOD, AND GOLD by Anthony Cave Brown


The Story of Aramco and the Saudi Kings
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The tale of Aramco—a joint venture owned by Standard Oil of California, Exxon, Texaco, and Mobil in profitable symbiosis with Saudi potentates—and its eventual life as an Arabian entity is one to rival many an adventure novel. Brown (Treason in the Blood: H. St. John Philby, Kim Philby, and the Spy Case of the Century, 1994) has produced a text populated with Islamic fundamentalists and their blue-eyed infidel friends who developed and exploited, from beneath the desert sands, the world’s greatest hydrocarbon reserves. Aramco, an integral piece of the Middle East jigsaw puzzle for two generations, was a colossal consortium continuously siphoning fabulous cash flows from what Brown calls “the Empty Quarter of Araby.” Aramco existed at the whim of Ibn Saud and the kings who followed him. Sometimes the relationship was difficult, but during WWII oil still flowed. And during the Cold War, Aramco was excused from federal investigation of profiteering. Extra profits also came at the expense of the firm’s hosts; oil was sold, for example, to Aramco’s affiliates to keep royalties down. Naturally, the firm regularly attempted to influence the American government to reduce support for Israel. When it came to pitting fixed public policy against petrodollars, who would blame Aramco for choosing the latter? The author doesn’t (though he notes the general failure to “persuade the Washington polity that U.S. Middle East policy endangered the Aramco concession”). Aramco, with its American owners, finally “became the instrument of a foreign power, Saudi Arabia,” Brown concedes. His business narrative is marked by tales of bribery, deceit, and intrigue. Withal, life as an “Aramcon,” as a Westerner in the corporate desert village, was privileged while it lasted. Finally, the Saudis took control and the idyll was over. After producing “a trillion or two” Aramco was “now at one with Nineveh and Tyre.” Here’s Big Oil geopolitics paired with high drama, adventure, and bloodshed, with kidnapping, murder, and Holy War. An interesting story, indeed.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-59220-8
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999


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