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Oil, Power, and War: A Dark History

Richard Heinberg

November 6, 2018

By Matthieu Auzanneau. Foreword by Richard Heinberg.

The story of oil is one of hubris, fortune, betrayal, and destruction. It is the story of a resource that has been undeniably central to the creation of our modern culture, and ever-present during the darkest exploits of empire the world over. For the past 150 years, oil has become the most essential ingredient for economic, military, and political power. And it has brought us to our present moment in which political leaders and the fossil-fuel industry consider extraordinary, and extraordinarily dangerous, policy on a world stage marked by shifting power bases.

Upending the conventional wisdom by crafting a “people’s history,” award-winning journalist Matthieu Auzanneau deftly traces how oil became a national and then global addiction, outlines the enormous consequences of that addiction, sheds new light on major historical and contemporary figures, and raises new questions about stories we thought we knew well: What really sparked the oil crises in the 1970s, the shift away from the gold standard at Bretton Woods, or even the financial crash of 2008? How has oil shaped the events that have defined our times: two world wars, the Cold War, the Great Depression, ongoing wars in the Middle East, the advent of neoliberalism, and the Great Recession, among them?

With brutal clarity, Oil, Power, and War exposes the heavy hand oil has had in all of our lives—and illustrates how much heavier that hand could get during the increasingly desperate race to control the last of the world’s easily and cheaply extractable reserves.

Published by Chelsea Green Publishing, November 2018. 672 pages. ISBN 978-1-60358-743-3.

About the author:
Matthieu Auzanneau is the director of The Shift Project, a European think tank focusing on energy transition and the resources required to make the shift to an economy free from fossil fuel dependence, and also from greenhouse gas emissions. Previously he was a journalist, based in France, and mostly writing for Le Monde. He continues to write his Le Monde blog, Oil Man, which he describes as “a chronicle of the beginning of the end of petroleum.” The original French edition of this book, Or Noir: La grande histoire du pétrole, was awarded the Special Prize of the French Association of Energy Economists in 2016.


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Reviews and praise
“The new definitive work on oil and its historic significance, supplanting even Daniel Yergin’s renowned The Prize.”
—Richard Heinberg, author of Our Renewable Future

“Beautifully written and translated, Oil, Power, and War provides a detailed history of oil’s impact on economic and technical advances. [It] offers a profound new understanding of oil’s role in war and peace, growth and stagnation, and casts new light on the foundations of national power and the challenges that lie ahead. A terrific education and an engrossing read.”
—Dennis Meadows, coauthor of The Limits to Growth

“The definitive history of the rise and eventual fall of oil, brilliantly told. Auzanneau illuminates the history of our time driven by cheap oil and the persistent search for more at all costs. Insightful, authoritative, and essential reading. A dazzling and wise book.”
—David Orr, author of Dangerous Years

“This richly documented and beautifully written book tells a story that has not been fully told—until now. In years to come, historians will refer back to Auzanneau’s work as a definitive guide to the real role of oil in some of the most pivotal events in world history.”
—Nafeez Ahmed, editor of INSURGE intelligence

“This fascinating and excellent book sets out in detail the extraordinary story of oil’s discovery, production, pricing, and control, and throws light on the fears, misapprehensions, power plays, and conflicts that our addiction to this cheap and flexible form of energy has engendered. Auzanneau is particularly good at explaining the importance of oil in the sustenance of modern society, and therefore why the coming constraint to the global oil supply . . . is likely to be so difficult.”
—R. W. Bentley, editor of The Oil Age