Top positive review
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Interesting, informative and slightly egotistical
on 12 May 2014
The author John Browne, was the group chief executive of BP from 1995-2007 - as a result some of his observations really need to be taken with a pinch of salt. As such, he has met with and on occasion, done business with some rather disreputable leaders, Qadaffi, Putin & Blair to name a few.
He recaps the elements Iron, Carbon, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Titanium and Silicon. Giving the history of their discovery, development, usage and the effect that they have had on the modern day world. I found this deeply interesting from a purely chemical element perspective as it really paints a much broader picture than a listing of statistics about each element. From the development of steel using iron, automobiles using petroleum to the conquistadors march across South America for gold - this book really has a broad sense of scale when it comes to the applications and effect of each element on the world. Especially when it is considered how broad the reach of a single element and its effect on the development of society can be.
What irked me at several points - something other reviews have already pointed out - is the slant of John Browne's experience, his description of the Exxon Valdez disaster for example is heavily mitigated by pointing out that there have been worse oil spills previously. He then proceeds to mawkishly lament the Macondo well disaster, all issues caused by the very company he was at the helm of. When referencing oil he talks about Tony Blair's foresight for action on climate change, lauding a man most consider amoral. Given that Tony Blair provides a cover reference for the book, this has to be considered in a different light.
Browne regularly demonstrates his opulent life-style; beginning a sentence with "In my library I have a book of very large engravings..." (p96.) and buying a 'poporos' (a pre-Colombian solid gold jar for mashing coca) and his house in Venice combined with his clearly jet-set lifestyle all breed an air of superciliousness. Whilst this is a minor point; it does detract from the scientific narrative of the book and its scope. Regardless, this book is a highly factual & well-referenced read that taught me a few things about the effect these elements have had on the shape of our world today. If you can see past the egotism, this is well worth a read.