The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire
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A biography of two unlikely oilmen from outside the United States who broke the global domination of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company.

Although the unimaginably wealthy and powerful Rockefeller receives marquee billing in the title, Center for European Policy director of research Doran's account of that tycoon is mostly derivative. The author’s main accomplishment is his illumination of the saga of how Marcus Samuel Jr. (1853-1927) and Henri Deterding (1886-1939) became rivals in the world oil trade and then, around the turn of the century, found enough common interest to attack the Standard Oil juggernaut from Japan, Russia, and elsewhere outside the U.S. Samuel, from a London Jewish merchant family, and Deterding, an ambitious executive at the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, have been largely ignored by American oil industry chroniclers publishing for general audiences. Doran decided to move them into the spotlight, an especially ambitious task considering that Samuel ordered his personal and business papers burned shortly after his death in 1927. However, the author found enough surviving material to proceed confidently. As he closes the historical portion of the narrative, Doran tacks on a chapter titled "The Enduring Puzzle," which explains how the impacts of Rockefeller, Samuel, and Deterding play out in today's global oil economy. Certain elements endure, especially the geography that determines where to drill, the distances overcome to transport the products to consumers, the limits of technology in extracting substances from deep in the Earth, the environmental and financial risks involved, and the impossible-to-measure impacts of greed. The author views Chinese energy exploration and consumption (China is “a place where 291 million tons of imported coal goes up in smoke each year; where car-crazy consumers buy 20 million new automobiles annually”) as the overarching key to the future of the oil business.

A readable popular history told largely through the actions of swashbuckling tycoons.

Pub Date: May 24th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-525-42739-1
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2016


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