The preface to "Oil" describes the author's thought experiment of what it would be like to go a day without petroleum products. Naturally there would no fuel or lubricants, for cars or any other type of machinery -- but there would also be no plastics (oops, there goes the computer and telephone). There would be no reading glasses or contact lenses. Most of the medicines in his cabinet would be gone. No shampoo, shaving cream or deodorant, and no curtain around his shower. No toothpaste ... or toothbrush. No non-stick cookware, oven-proof glassware or plastic dishes. No waterproof clothing or shoes (unless they have leather soles).
There would be no heat in the winter. No harvesting of crops without machinery, fertilizers or pesticides. Credit and debit cards, being plastic of course, are gone. CDs and DVDs disappear, as well anything to play them on, because there are no electronic circuit boards.
Very quickly you realize why Yeomans calls oil "the most important product on earth" -- it has not only fueled the Industrial Revolution, it *IS* the Industrial Revolution. Without oil, the world very quickly plunges into a wood, iron and stone economy not seen since the Middle Ages.
In Chapter 1 Yeomans gives "a short history of oil," from its discovery as a fuel to the mechanization of its extraction and refinement. How World War I was made more lethal (over 16 million dead!) through tanks and troop carriers. How the Allied powers divided up the oil-producing regions after the war in order to protect their own newfound dependence on the stuff.
One of Yeomans' great talents is revealing the hidden oil-related motives in history. Pearl Harbor was Japan's bid to control Indochinese oil fields. Hitler's expansion was to ensure energy resources. Who has oil, and who controls its production, has truly shaped the 20th Century.
Chapter 2 describes the automobile culture that arose out of cheap gas, with interstate highways, a mobile workforce, and sprawling suburbs. Detroit and the oil giants encouraged excess, and American consumers love their inefficient chrome land yachts.
Chapter 3 describes the machinations that have caused (and are still causing) regime change and political turmoil as oil companies set foreign policy and install businessmen to run the lucrative franchises known as "other nations."
The 4th chapter introduces the concept of "peak oil" and discusses the economics of the end of high-grade light crude in easily-drilled areas.
Chapter 5, entitled "Energy Wars," describes the inevitable results of the major developed and developing nations competing for the rapidly dwindling reserves.
The last three chapters are less timeless, written in 2003-4 and describing the now-familiar Bush Administration policies and mistakes. But they're still extremely clear-headed, factual, concise and irrefutable, and together with the rest of the book paint a very solemn portrait of the legacy we're leaving our children.
A legacy of unsustainable growth built on an artificially-discounted, temporarily-available, non-renewable resource. When it's gone how much of our civilization will survive -- and at what cost?