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on 1 December 2009
Saw a pre release review for this book and bought it as soon as it came out and did read it cover to cover in three days. The book covers the later period of my career in upstream oil and gas business during which I have met some of the book's central characters.

After the first twenty pages I found my increasing annoyance had turned into my correcting numerical errors in the text; where millions and billions are often mixed up or where countries are transposed with field names and so on. A proof read of the book by someone with a technical background could easily have removed these annoying errors.

But those faults did not detract from the flow of the book although I was left wondering if the non numerical statements and conclusions were sometimes as inaccurate as the numerical errors.

Nevertheless this is book is a great read for someone in or not in the world of oil and gas. The book does draw out the significant changes that have and continue to take place as the oil majors see the balance of commercial influence having all but entirely moved to the national oil companies and the trading floors.
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on 28 January 2014
Tom Bower rather specialises in telling the stories of the crooks, near crooks, charlatans and risk-takers that rose to the top, and then sometimes spectacularly fell, in modern times. Robert Maxwell, Tiny Rowland, Richard Branson, Conrad Black and Simon Cowell have all been subjects of his especially brutal style of biography. In "The Squeeze" the characters are at least as colourful and twisted as these for the book is about, as Bower puts it, "Oil, Money and Greed in the Twenty-First Century".

Having spent four decades or so in the oil industry with Shell, albeit not at the top (though close to it at times) I was staggered by the revelations in "The Squeeze". There is not a multinational oil corporation, a national oil company, a trader or anybody else which comes out of the history of the oil industry over the last twenty years with much credit. And Bower does not even discuss in detail the biggest bunch of crooks of all - the leaders of Enron whose dysfunctionality and illegalities are well known. I often tell a story of how back in 2000 I travelled on business to Houston to visit Shell's US Company "Shell Oil" whose headquarters are there. On my way from the airport with one of their executives I was taken on a detour to see a sports stadium the newly named "Enron Field", home of the Major League Baseball team the Houston Astros. "That's what we (Shell) should do" he said pointing at the stadium "and we could learn from Enron in how to run an Energy company as well. We are much too risk adverse in Shell".

Risk is endemic in the oil business and always has been and it's very hot at times - so those who can't stand the heat are well advised to keep away from the kitchen. Maybe those who can stand the heat are a particular breed of men (nearly all men) because irrespective of company top executives of the oil majors have been a particularly unusual breed. There was Lee Raymond at Exxon who ran this giant Corporation as a personal fiefdom and who was so capitalist that he would have made Milton Friedman seem like a Marxist. Raymond's response to the Exxon Valdez disaster Bower describes in graphic detail - less than sympathetic to those who suffered from the tanker's massive pollution would be the polite way of putting it. Then there was John Browne at BP who was a flawed genius whose flaws became more apparent as his power at the top tightened. He had a "fatal vanity" and like Raymond he was all powerful "Only `yes men' were tolerated" says Bower "dissenters were withered by his intellectual power". Phil Watts at Shell also conformed to this stereotype. He succeeded Mark Moody-Stuart as Chairman in part on the grounds that "He is a good Christian, and very thorough" as the latter put it. Watts was generally hated in Shell and when he steered the company into the abyss over the "Reserves scandal" (well documented by Bower) such friends as he had disappeared and many were secretly pleased as security men marched him unceremoniously from the Shell Building in The Hague on 1st March 2004.

If men like Raymond, Browne and Watts can reach the top of a multinational oil company it does say something about the oil business. But even these questionable characters pale into insignificance compared with the Russian oligarchs! After the economic liberalisation of the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union there were to be rich pickings for the clever Russian entrepreneurs in the energy business. Lee Raymond retired from Exxon with a package worth $400m - that would be petty cash to those Russians who made countless billions thanks to the grace and favour offered them by Vladimir Putin and their own extra-legal carving up of the revenues from the Russian oil and gas fields. Bower tells this story and in particular how Putin and theses men ran rings around Shell, BP and Exxon. For example Shell caught the Russians at a bad time (for them) over the initial structuring of the ownership and profit streams from the Joint Venture Sakhalin project. When things changed as oil prices rose a more confident Putin simply walked away from the original agreement and imposed on Shell one that was much more favourable for Russia. He did the same with BP over the TNK-BP joint venture. Beware of Russians bearing gifts!

It is the hypocrisy that comes through most notably in "The Squeeze". Both BP and Shell indulged in extensive advertising and promotional campaigns to position themselves as environmentally friendly and morally robust corporations whilst never instituting the internal systems and controls that would have made this credible. BP's cost-cutting mind-set under John Brown was to lead directly to the explosion at the Texas City refinery in March 2005 which killed 15 people. Bower describes the "rusting pipes" which "pockmarked the unmodernised plant". Shell launched with great fanfare its commitment to "Business Principles" just a few short years before it institutionally lied about its hydrocarbon reserves. These scandals are far from the exception - the underlying take out from "The Squeeze" is that the business and personal rewards are potentially so great in the Oil industry is that nobody behaves honourably whether an OPEC oil minister, a Russian President or a Company Chief Executive. It's a sobering thought. Even more sobering is the fact that a year after the book's publication BP's oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico exploded after a blowout, killing 11 people, injuring 16 others and causing massive pollution. Like Texas City this was directly attributable to poor maintenance standards and processes. Plus ca change.
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on 26 June 2012
I bough this book on the recommendation of a colleague but he did warn me about there being many errors. It's a great concept and the focus on people is a nice touch as it personalises what is a fascinating industry. However I wouldn't recommend this book without a substantial revision.

I have been in the business for 30 years and know some of the characters described - one of two of them quite well. The rather sensational descriptions of personalities and motivations are a stretched in places. If Tom Bower gets his description of them wrong and then couples that with multiple (and I mean multiple) innacuracies with facts then how much faith can I have in he bits I'm less familiar with.

A missed opportunity.
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on 22 February 2010
I am part way through this book and am really enjoying it. It is extremely accessible and informative and is a very easy read. It appears to be very well researched. The only downside is that it is poorly edited and contains quite a lot of errors that get more and more annoying as the book progresses. I would recommend this to anyone interested in understanding, at a high level, the recent history of Big Oil.
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on 1 August 2010
good scope and plan for a book but every bit I knew about was filled with factual errors so confidence about the other bits has to be diminished. The errors were technical, historical and geographical and of the sort you'd expect a good editor to sort out. There were so many as to seriously detract from the enjoyment of the book and such that I couldn't recommend it
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on 19 May 2013
Tom Bower is always full of facts and as far as I know has never been sued which speaks for something. This book is bang up to date when one considers the government has now started to look into Platts oil price fixing
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on 21 October 2011
Fascinating in depth story about the oil moguls from the big six who control the worlds oil markets. Bower delves deeply into the way the former Russian President Putin controlled the mergers between Western oil companies and the recently privatised oil market in Russia. He highlights the power struggles between the American oil companies to increase their reserves nationally, Internationally and particularly with Russia, while he reveals the ambitions of John Brown, Later Lord Brown, of Beyond Petroleum who beat them all to it in Russia by linking up with TNK!
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on 13 April 2013
I took this book with a septic view and was not comfortable with the format - the 23 chapters. God I was wrong ! This is a captivating book which bring the hidden history of oil. I really recommend it to anybody who wants to know the real story of oil ...
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on 21 July 2012
Bower gets under the skin of the oil magnates, and shows their true colours. The people that run this industry are ruthless, manipulative, complicit in manipulating the market and greedy beyond belief.
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on 23 August 2010
This is a seriously good read if you are at all interested in the devious world of the oil kings. It actually reads like a good adventure story which, in reality, the oil business is.
It may open you eyes to the deviousness, double-dirty dealings and dubious contracts between the oil traders, company bosses and politicians. An excellent book.
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