Book Review: The Squeeze, by Tom Bower

The Squeeze is marketed as a “groundbreaking new study of the entire industry”; a tall order, given the size of the world’s largest industry. Happily, it is accurate advertising, as Bower introduces us to an astonishing number of different aspects of the industry, and manages somehow to have an insiders’ perspective on each.

 The style of the book is one of its main strengths, as each chapter takes on a different area of the oil industry, and often focuses on the perspective of various individuals who have played key roles in recent years. Chapter titles of “The Emperor”, “The Hunter”, and “The Survivor”, for example, emphasise just how surreal some of the events are through the almost fictional sounding names. Bower reveals shocking information from secret meetings of Big Oil executives with Russian oligarchs, or European heads of state and economists predicting the end of the world as we know it, meaning the entire book has a tinge of “crime thriller” fiction about it.

 The fact that it is not actually fictional but the basis of the world’s economy is perhaps quite telling, given the current economic problems the world is facing. The unpredictability, the highs and lows of discovering oil, the backroom politics of Big Oil (and their smaller counterparts) trying to gain access to often dangerous and unstable countries, are all excellently covered and provide a real page-turner. I would be intrigued to find out how Bower gained access to such influential people within the industry.

 Given the breadth of information covered, it’s unsurprising that it is such a large book- nearly 500 pages, which some might find a little offputting. Despite the number of areas covered, Bower manages to interlink them all incredibly well and make what could have been an information-dense, hard to read book, a real page-turner. Wondering “what happens next” at the end of each chapter is made even more poignant by the fact that it all actually happened. For those wanting an insight into the tumultuous, behind-the-scenes politics of the world of oil, this book is exactly the right place to start.

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