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The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire…
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The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian…

by Steve LeVine

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The Caspian Sea is one of the most important oil regions in the world. However very little has been written about it. This book helps change that. Starting with the history of the development of the oil industry there, LeVine goes on to the modern day, detailing the way multinational oil companies came to dominate the region.

There is a major focus on the personalities involved, backed by interviews with nearly everyone written about. At the same time that can be considered the only mark against the book; it is very personality-based, and at times feels like its an attack on a few select people. I would also have liked to see more information about the effects it had on the Caspian states themselves, but I realise that can be difficult with their reluctance to contribute in something that would be critical of their regimes. It also seems rather short considering the magnitude of the subject; an extra 100 pages of details would certainly not have hurt.

As well, as the book was published in 2007, it is obviously unable to include the 2008 Russia-Georgia War and the repercussions of that conflict. So if you are looking for that, you will have to read other material.

Overall a decent book that helps explain why the Caspian region is as it is in regards to oil and natural gas. ( )
  kaiser_matias | Jul 5, 2014 |
Reviewed in The Middle East Journal, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp.169-70, Winter 2008.
  MiddleEastInstitute | Mar 3, 2008 |
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Nel 13esimo secolo Marco Polo narra di cammellieri che esportavano petrolio da Baku, la capitale dell’Azerbaigian, nella zona del Mar Caspio, una regione al centro di contese etniche e belliche gia’ dai tempi di Alessandro il Grande. Un greggio denso, odoroso, non raffinato, esportato in tutto il Mediterraneo, fino a Baghdad, per essere usato come mezzo di illuminazione e come balsamo. Un “oro nero” che in quella localita’ era ed e’ particolarmente abbondante, fino al punto di sgorgare naturalmente dal terreno. Da quel momento il petrolio entra prepotentemente nella storia dell’uomo, marchiandone ineludibilmente lo sviluppo economico. E quell’area geografica, il Mar Caspio, diventa il crogiuolo di pulsioni di grandezza e di volonta’ di dominio ma anche di grandi aspirazioni di progresso e di crescita. La storia del petrolio del Caspio, e piu’ in generale della zona del Caucaso, ha le sue origini nel diciannovesimo secolo. La “febbre del Caspio” era cominciata gia’ al tempo degli Zar; quando si scavarono i primi pozzi di petrolio vicino a Baku, nella regione dell’Azerbajan, e da quel momento fasi di ricchezza e prosperita’ si alternano a depressione e poverta’. Ma quella regione diventa anche uno scenario sul quale si confrontano e spesso si scontrano, gli interessi e le aspettative delle grandi potenze internazionali: un campo da gioco dove tutti i colpi sono ammessi. E’ questo il grande affresco che viene tratteggiato dal libro di Steve LeVine “Il petrolio e la gloria. La corsa al dominio e alle ricchezze della regione del Mar Caspio“, edizioni ‘il Sirente‘. Un excursus storico, quello di LeVine, che arriva fino ai giorni scorsi, scritto con grande attenzione ai personaggi, alle storie avventurose che hanno caratterizzato, negli anni, il confronto tra le Nazioni per il controllo dell’oro nero. Una battaglia condotta spesso in modo spregiudicato, caratterizzato da un clima da spy-story di inizio secolo, poi da ‘guerra fredda’, infine dall’ingresso sulla scena del mondo dell’alta finanza e delle superpotenze economiche.
Un libro avvincente, che squarcia il velo su un mondo duro e senza scrupoli e che mostra – guardando con una lente d’ingrandimento le vicende legate al Mar Caspio – quanto la ricerca del petrolio e, ancor di piu’, i tentativi di appropriarsene, abbiano influenzato il destino dell’umanita’. In questo senso LeVine sfrutta la sua formazione professionale – giornalista di lungo corso che ha lavorato proprio in quelle zone – per ricostruire, come in un giallo, la scena del delitto, i protagonisti, i retroscena e i segreti che muovono i tanti ‘attori’ di questo libro, a meta’ strada fra l’inchiesta e il romanzo. Forse l’unico appunto che si puo’ muovere, e’ che l’autore propone una visione ‘anglocentrica’ dell’intera vicenda, mettendo sullo scacchiere il ruolo della Gran Bretagna, degli Stati Uniti e di una Russia all’affannosa riconquista di un ruolo da superpotenza sfruttando le risorse energetiche. Nel libro, insomma, manca un po’ il ruolo esercitato dagli altri Paesi grandi produttori di petrolio, o dai grandi Paesi consumatori di energia – come la Cina e l’India, la cui immensa domanda di petrolio e gas modifica e modifichera’ sempre di piu’ il mercato dell’energia – o, ancora, dagli outsider che, tuttavia, avevano capito le potenzialita’ di sfruttamento di quella regione. E’ il caso di Enrico Mattei che fin dagli Anni ’50 – attraverso l’Agip – aveva allacciato rapporti e sottoscritto contratti con l’allora Urss. E non a caso l’autore conclude la sua opera con un esplicito richiamo – che sa un po’ di nostalgia o di visione schematica del mondo – al ‘duello’ Russia-Usa per il dominio politico ed economico.
added by yamibolo | editAGI, Antonio Lucaroni (Aug 8, 2008)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375506144, Hardcover)

Remote, forbidding, and volatile, the Caspian Sea long tantalized the world with its vast oil reserves. But outsiders, blocked by the closed Soviet system, couldn’t get to it. Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and a wholesale rush into the region erupted. Along with oilmen, representatives of the world’s leading nations flocked to the Caspian for a share of the thirty billion barrels of proven oil reserves at stake, and a tense geopolitical struggle began. The main players were Moscow and Washington–the former seeking to retain control of its satellite states, and the latter intent on dislodging Russia to the benefit of the West.
The Oil and the Glory is the gripping account of this latest phase in the epochal struggle for control of the earth’s “black gold.” Steve LeVine, who was based in the region for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Newsweek, weaves an astonishing tale of high-stakes political gamesmanship, greed, and scandal, set in one of the most opaque corners of the world. In LeVine’s telling, the world’s energy giants jockey for position in the rich Kazakh and Azeri oilfields, while superpowers seek to gain a strategic foothold in the region and to keep each other in check. At the heart of the story is the contest to build and operate energy pipelines out of the landlocked region, the key to controlling the Caspian and its oil. The oil pipeline that resulted, the longest in the world, is among Washington’s greatest foreign policy triumphs in at least a decade and a half.
Along the way, LeVine introduces such players as James Giffen, an American moneyman who was also the political “fixer” for oil companies eager to do business on the Caspian and the broker for Kazakhstan’s president and ministers; John Deuss, the flamboyant Dutch oil trader who won big but lost even bigger; Heydar Aliyev, the oft-misunderstood Azeri president who transcended his past as a Soviet Politburo member and masterminded a scheme to loosen Russian control over its former colonies in the Caspian region; and all manner of rogues, adventurers, and others drawn by the irresistible pull of untold riches and the possible “final frontier” of the fossil-fuel era. The broader story is of the geopolitical questions of the Caspian oil bonanza, such as whether Russia can be a trusted ally and trading partner with the West, and what Washington’s entry into this important but chaotic region will mean for its long-term stability.
In an intense and suspenseful narrative, The Oil and the Glory is the definitive chronicle of events that are understood by few, but whose political and economic impact will be both profound and lasting.

"The collapse of the Soviet Union was a big opportunity for Big Oil, whose exploits are detailed in this fast-paced work of political and economic reportage by Wall Street Journal energy correspondent LeVine.
Westerners had been sniffing for black gold in Russia and its satellites long before the empire disintegrated, notes the author. Averell Harriman, “the Harvard-trained scion of nineteenth-century robber baron Edward Harriman,” tried his hand at the business before turning to manganese mining, while Armand Hammer “became a money launderer for the Bolsheviks, sneaked cash to secret Bolshevik agents in the United States, and profited handsomely as the representative in Russia of some thirty American companies.” Hammer set the tone for the Americans who flocked to the Caspian in the first years of the Clinton presidency, which maneuvered for the construction of an east-west oil pipeline that, by reversing the old pattern of Central Asian materials going north to Russia and coming back as products for sale, “would favor the West and disfavor Russia.” Not a nice way to treat a fledgling democracy, but the oil scouts, of course, considered Russia a rival for Central-Asian resources second only to Iran, with its heartfelt and long-standing enmity toward the United States in the region and abroad. These scouts–the first among equals being LeVine’s heart-of-darkness antihero, Jim Giffen–kept their distance when Russia still had control over the area, spurning a Gorbachev-era program to allow foreign co-ownership. But they rushed to support separatist movements and encouraged ethnic and political divisions that opened the door to an even bigger share of the wealth. The tale of Giffen’s rise and fall (the latter for perhaps surprising reasons) occupies much of the later pages, but he never loses sight of the bigger picture: namely, Central Asia as oil lamp and potential powder keg in the realpolitik of the next few years.
A complex story rendered comprehensible, with much drama and intrigue."--KIRKUS

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:51 -0400)

Describes the rogue's gallery of adventurers, dealmakers, political operatives, corrupt officials, powerful oil companies, and other interests competing for the vast oil reserves in the Caspian region in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.… (more)

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