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The Tyranny of Oil

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The infamy of petroleum’s corporate lineage is legend. In most US history courses or textbooks, the measuring stick for corporate greed and unethical largess is the Standard Oil Trust, created by the business genius John D. Rockefeller.

Its unprecedented success was taken on by Progressive reformers in the first decade of the 20th century in an effort to smash its monopoly. Its subsequent breakup by a Supreme Court ruling in 1911 is toted as marking the end of an era and a distant moment in corporate management. Right?

Wrong, answers Antonia Juhasz in her new book The Tyranny of Oil. “[T]he political tyranny exercised by the masters of the oil industry,” she writes, “corrupts democracy and destroys our ability to choose how much we will sacrifice in oil’s name.”

In her stark account of the dominance of “Big Oil,” Juhasz shows the industry’s graduation from the corporate bullying of Rockefeller’s era to its present political and diplomatic dominance.

If you do not wish to read that the current war in Iraq was over oil, steer clear of Juhasz’s book. She is masterly at connecting the political and corporate dots to create a clear progression that has, indeed, resulted in a nation willing to wage war over the commodity of petroleum.

Historical patterns
Throughout most of the book’s chapters, Juhasz uses history to explain the patterns she has identified. Policy and economic historians are likely to quibble with her oversimplifications. For instance, her account emphasizes deregulation (which is swiftly becoming a buzzword for all that ails the nation) and the megamergers that occurred in the last decades of the 20th century.

Throughout, she heaps further blame on the mountain already massed against Big Oil.

And yet, by accessing corporate records and federal documents and lending to them her considerable skills as a policy analyst, Juhasz offers new credibility to most of her general arguments.

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