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

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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 billi 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


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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 billi 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

30 review for The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea

  1. 4 out of 5

    Pbwritr

    What a fantastic book! I will probably only remember about 5 percent of what I read, it is so chock-ful of people, events, negotiations, etc. The subtitle following the book is :The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea. I had no idea until this book that the Caspian Sea was the site of so much oil, riches, scrabbles for power, nor that the U.S. and the USSR were engaged in mutual developments even during the Cold War. Nor did I know that so much of the oil industry there is politiciz What a fantastic book! I will probably only remember about 5 percent of what I read, it is so chock-ful of people, events, negotiations, etc. The subtitle following the book is :The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea. I had no idea until this book that the Caspian Sea was the site of so much oil, riches, scrabbles for power, nor that the U.S. and the USSR were engaged in mutual developments even during the Cold War. Nor did I know that so much of the oil industry there is politicized, both during the Cold War when the territory surrounding the Caspian Sea was Soviet-controlled and now, when the independent republics still have to consider Moscow's influence. The rise and fall of Baku with European industrialists in the 19th century, great mansions built by oil barons, the influence of the Rockefellers and Nobels--all of it was new information to me. I will never forget about Oily Rocks, the huge oil drilling platform built by the Soviet Union in 1947 in the Caspian Sea off of Baku where 5,000 people lived and worked until the 1990s when parts of the infrastructure started going underwater. Find a photo of this--it's amazing! Numerous bridges and platforms and 9-story dormitory and, literally, roads made up this extraordinary achievement, the first time oil was drilled in open water. The primary characters who served as middlemen between the republics and the oil companies were men of vision, risk-taking, and supreme confidence, earning hundreds of millions of dollars just for gaining a company the right to negotiate with a government about oil. Illuminating in every way.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    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 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    JM

    Interesting read, great context for alot that went/goes on in the Caucuses.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    I saw this author speak a few years ago and have had his book sitting on my shelf since then. The book tackles a really interesting topic ... the attempts that oil companies made over several decades to cultivate relationships with political leaders in the Soviet and, later, former Soviet republics bordering the Caspian Sea. I was really captivated by the author's talk and wasn't disappointed in the book at all and wavered as to whether to give it a three- or four-star rating. The narrative was s I saw this author speak a few years ago and have had his book sitting on my shelf since then. The book tackles a really interesting topic ... the attempts that oil companies made over several decades to cultivate relationships with political leaders in the Soviet and, later, former Soviet republics bordering the Caspian Sea. I was really captivated by the author's talk and wasn't disappointed in the book at all and wavered as to whether to give it a three- or four-star rating. The narrative was swift and easy-to-read. It's clear that the author did a ton of research and he really offered a bunch of insight into the different characters -- and a lot of these guys really were characters -- who controlled the oil fields around the Caspian Sea. The book also discusses the geopolitical issues that surrounded a lot of the decisions that politicians made in those areas. Ultimately, though, I felt the book was a tiny bit too heavy on the narrative and a tiny bit too light on the geopolitical analysis. That criticism may be a tiny bit unfair because the narrative really is quite good. However, it's probably not giving much away to say that there seemed to be a tendency for deals that companies made with politicians to fall through. As a result, the types of events that the book was covering tended to become a little repetitive ... they made a deal, everyone was excited, the deal fell through, everyone went back to the table for more tough negotiations, and eventually another deal was struck. The repetition eventually made it seem like this is a story without end and, indeed, that may be true. It would be naive to think that the future of oil exploration in the Caspian Sea might have been decided by the time the author completed his book. The fact that the plotline would continue well beyond the time that the author was writing, though, enhanced the importance of analyzing the geopolitical issues that went into the decisions that were made. The author talked about tying the republics along the Caspian into the Western economy by building pipelines through Turkey, but I would have liked even more analysis of what the impact of these economic ties would be. And, the author does a good job talking about American politicians and advisers who thought that would be a poor strategy and instead recommended building closer ties with the Russians. I feel like a stronger focus on geopolitical issues would have left me with a stronger sense of how to think about things happening in central Asia and a weaker sense of the timeline of events leading to different oil deals being struck. If the president of Turkmenistan is creating a cult of personality that's preventing his country from benefiting from the gains of its natural resources, how is he staying in power? That type of question would not only give me a better understanding of Turkmenistan, but also of North Korea. How have oil revenues benefited Kazakhstan? Has Kazakhstan or any of the other former Soviet republics suffered from Dutch disease -- increasing revenues negatively impacting manufacturing and other sectors? That type of question would not only help me understand Kazakhstan but possibly oil producing countries in Africa as well. It's quite possible that more analysis would have ruined the narrative. But, oftentimes, when I read a book like this, it's because I think it will help me understand the world better. And it did, but just a little. It really was quite a good book ... I just feel like it had the potential to be really, really good and fell a bit short of that.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ian Taylor

    It's a really comprehensive history of petroleum in the Black Sea region. I thought the first half of the book was more interesting than the second. It's unfortunate the topic was too large to place within a more geopolitical dimension, but this book was thick enough the way it was. I think Levine is a good writer, but he doesn't have a talent with words when writing history. I find that most journalists-turned-authors don't know how to make history come alive like the Barbara Tuchman's or John It's a really comprehensive history of petroleum in the Black Sea region. I thought the first half of the book was more interesting than the second. It's unfortunate the topic was too large to place within a more geopolitical dimension, but this book was thick enough the way it was. I think Levine is a good writer, but he doesn't have a talent with words when writing history. I find that most journalists-turned-authors don't know how to make history come alive like the Barbara Tuchman's or John Lewis Gaddis's. So, when they do write history, it turns out uneven in descriptions and analysis. As a result, you aren't sure where you're going, what the significance of some facts are, you get introduced to some things which seem trivial, and then get vague descriptions of some subjects. I found myself asking "Who is this?" and "Where is this going?" But, I would say that I haven't encountered any really good history of the Black Sea oil industry and Levine's book is the only book on it. You can tell he has done his homework on it and I liked that. It's not easy to write about an obscure region and to discuss not the history, but the economic history of the region (in effect economic history, since petroleum is the region's most coveted resource). Not an easy task and I give him an extra star for that accomplishment. But, stay away if you don't want to hear about oil, because that is what this book is about. And, with the size of this book, you have to be a petro-head to finish it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sabrine Cutting

    My favorite book in the goal I set for the reading challenge this year. At times Levine's character development was tedious, but overall, the depth of detail for the deals structured in the Caspian fields was very engaging and eventually the character development made the plot very dramatic. Levine adequately covered the breadth of topics associated with deals in a non-market environment: politics, war, class and ethnic conflict, greed, ethics, negotiation, border disputes, terrorism. What was m My favorite book in the goal I set for the reading challenge this year. At times Levine's character development was tedious, but overall, the depth of detail for the deals structured in the Caspian fields was very engaging and eventually the character development made the plot very dramatic. Levine adequately covered the breadth of topics associated with deals in a non-market environment: politics, war, class and ethnic conflict, greed, ethics, negotiation, border disputes, terrorism. What was most striking was the absence of women leaders in the book, and the women who were mentioned were marginally instrumental or easily dismissed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Exhaustive history of the oil industry in the Caspian region. The author focuses on the period between 1980 and 1995 when the region really opened up to foreign investment. There a lot of players involved over long periods of negotiation , but the author includes a time line to help the reader keep things straight. The lengths to which the companies involved went to close the deals made me realize how large the stakes in oil exploration are.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    Steve Levine does a great job unwinding the complicated history of oil and gas developments in the Caspian Sea region from the mid-19th century to 2007. Oh, the bastards who cleaned up at these ventures. Definitely recommended reading for all Eurasian studies or energy industry geeks. I really enjoy Levine's journalistic writing style.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    Good for the information, but it felt like it would never end and that I was reading the same vignette over and over again. Maybe that was the point. The history of the region at the beginning was cool, but the book dwelt paid more attention to and spent longer discussing the Clinton Administration's Central Asian oil policies than the Clinton Administration did.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    I learned a ton about the Caspian region and oil. It hit topics I knew nothing about: The Nobel Brothers, a gusher that shot 100 feet high and ran for 3 months, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Jim Giffen and other international "dealmakers", U.S.-Soviet power politics over oil. A bit of a slog, but full of the "wild west" nature of oil exploration.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Markus

    Interesting book on oil exploration and deal-making in the Caspian Sea region. Also interesting background on a part of the world I don't know much about. The book tends to jump between different stories at times and tends to ramble as well.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    A long, but not totally dry, account of all the wheeler-dealers vying for profit and political alliance on one of the world's largest oil fields. It was interesting to read after recent events like the defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline and the unrest in Ukraine.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paulo Jan

    I became fascinated with those histories of oil exploration on Caspian , before , during and after Soviet Union. The multiple possibilities of pipelines , the Russia´s sphere of influence , the negociations. Read this book before any other title of actual geopolitics.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Spears

    An excellent history of the resources and politics of the area. Having traveled to all the countries except Afghanistan and Pakistan, Levine has done a masterful job of telling the story of oil and gas along with the characters involved.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sunlita

    Well, I don't know much about 'oil' or 'mining' things, but.. this book is written in an excellent 'package' that also entertain its readers. I haven't bought it yet, I'll check if I have some extra-money to do it or not. ^^

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Tremendous story that connects 100 years of interest in the treasures of the Caspian Sea. Each chapter includes surprises about connections and inter-relationships Could be a Hollywood movie script with ease.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Butch Byers

    the one book you have to read before you come to work in the oil industry in Western Kazakhstan

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Interesting story of oil politics around the Caspian Sea and all of the players in the new great game of the region.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hans Hoffmann

    A great read as Mr Levine has told a facinating story of the rush for Oil in the Caspian Sea. It also tells of the power of the oil indutry and who the key players are.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    An interesting book, that taught me a bit about a part of the world I didn't know much about previously.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jim Walker

    A bit of a look at the chessboard of exploiting oil. I liked this book!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Garrett

    An excellent book retelling the story of the pursuit of energy and fortune in the Caspian region. I learned a lot.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dele Cooke

    Superb. Not just a history of oil, but an excellent biography of the Stans, an outstanding story of developing countries after the Soviet Union stopped playing the Cold War.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brianpablo

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniela Pandrea

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katrina

  27. 5 out of 5

    Trent Kososki

  28. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Purcell

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Mccarrel

  30. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

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