The ""Seven Sisters,"" a phrase made famous by the late Italian oil maverick Enrico Mattei, are BP, Shell, Texaco, Gulf, Socal, Mobil, and--the giant of giants--Exxon. Anthony Sampson, whose most recent book is The Sovereign State of ITT (1973), lucidly negotiates their tortuous histories, summarizing each sister's origins and tracing the industry's erratic relationships with Western and Mideast governments from the 1911 Standard Oil Trust case to the aftermath of the 1973-74 embargo. He deplores the longstanding willingness to let the ""majors"" assume serious foreign policy responsibilities. For decades the great consortia claimed to function as ""buffers"" between the oil-producing and consuming nations--an argument used to justify a multitude of antitrust violations. Sampson thinks it was the independent companies, with their eagerness to acquire oil on any terms, who instigated the producing nations' new attitude during the 1960's. Sampson pays little attention to the majors' warfare against the independents and he fails to thrash out whether the sisters in fact managed to turn the price hikes of the late sixties to their own advantage. As for the future, he has few concrete suggestions beyond a warning that Western governments must think through the supervisory responsibilities they have so long shirked. Peter Odell's Oil and World Power (p. 165) is a solider general introduction to the subject, but the clarity of Sampson's writing offsets a certain blandness.