Cover image for Oil, God, and gold : the story of Aramco and the Saudi kings
Oil, God, and gold : the story of Aramco and the Saudi kings
Brown, Anthony Cave.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 420 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"Marc Jaffe book."
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HD9576.S33 B76 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Here is the extraordinary tale of what the U.S. State Department once called "the most valuable commercial prize in the history of the planet," the vast oil reserves beneath the sands of the Arabian desert. Using Aramco files never before available to scholars or journalists, dozens of personal interviews, and U.S. and British government documents, Anthony Cave Brown recounts the unceasing diplomatic and corporate maneuvers aimed at obtaining this unimaginable wealth, an ongoing drama that involved such figures as the great warrior-king Ibn Saud, founder of the Saudi dynasty; H. St. John Philby, the British scholar-adventurer who was a chief advisor to the king; the American philanthropist Charles Crane; Winston Churchill; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and assorted oil-industry executives and engineers across the United States. Played out against a background of war and the turmoil of an ancient culture thrust abruptly into the twentieth century, the struggle to obtain the prize was won by the United States, which emerged from the battle to become the dominant Western power in the Middle East.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Aramco, or the Arab American Oil Company, grew out of an agreement between Ibn Saud, who formed the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and Standard Oil of California. In 1933 Ibn Saud granted the U.S. company oil exploration and production rights, and other American companies joined the consortium that became Aramco in 1944. The important role of Aramco has been acknowledged in Anthony Sampson's The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shaped (1975) and Daniel Yergen's The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (1990), well-noted books written for popular audiences. Now Brown, who has written half a dozen books about British and U.S. espionage and intelligence operations, uncovers the shadowy details of the battle to win and keep control of the greatest concentration of natural wealth in the world. With access to a cache of newly discovered personal papers belonging to William E. Mulligan, Aramco's go-between with the Saudi government, Brown pulls back the veil of secrecy that has always surrounded Aramco. --David Rouse

Publisher's Weekly Review

Everything about the story of the American interest in Arabian oil is big. Standard Oil (whose post-Antitrust Act components formed Aramco in 1947 in the largest corporate merger the world had seen) made trillions of dollars over its history, produced millions of barrels of oil daily by the late 1950s and, to a mind-boggling extent, successfully intervened in international politics to protect its interests. Brown's skill in relating the complex relations among the Saudi royal family, the secretive oil executives and the American and British governments is no less impressive. The story begins with how, between the world wars, Standard Oil challenged and‘with the help of the same American government that had busted its trust‘beat the British Empire in the race for the prize of Arabian oil. Brown hangs this part of his account on the lives and deeds of three men: Ibn Saud, the Arab prince allied with the British in WWI who founded the Saudi dynasty; John D. Rockefeller, the American oil baron; and Harry St. John Philby, a British agent who advised Ibn Saud. (Brown likens Philby to his infamous son, Soviet spy Kim Philby, arguing that his loyalty to Ibn Saud led him to "betray" Britain by advising the king ultimately to favor Standard Oil over the Empire.) Brown brings the reader through the post-WWII transfer of world hegemony from the British Empire to the U.S., explaining the symbiosis of corporate and Saudi politics against the backdrop of the Cold War, the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Iran-Iraq war. It's a great story well told. The only shortcoming is that Brown relies so heavily on Aramco documents that his history is skewed a little too much to the corporate side, relegating geopolitics to a secondary, though still vital, role. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Brown (Treason in Blood, LJ 11/15/94) presents a complex account of intrigue and international politics from the oil fields of the Middle East. Based on extensive research, including private ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company) files, Brown traces the discovery, development, and competition for control of the Saudi oil reserves from World War I to the purchase of ARAMCO in 1988 by the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. As he examines the clash of Western values with Eastern religious traditions, Brown reveals the influence many prominent individuals have had on oil policy‘including Franklin Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, Ibn Saud, John Philby, and Aristotle Onassis. Fast paced and highly entertaining, Brown's history demonstrates a unique understanding of how the politics of Big Oil have reshaped global economies. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.‘Robert L. Balliot Jr., East Greenwich Free Lib., RI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Brown, author of several books on intelligence issues, found in 1990 the extensive records kept by long-time Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company) political officer William Mulligan, which are now at Georgetown University. He used those records and the Aramco oral history project at the University of California's Bancroft Library, complemented with memoirs and British and American government archives, to write an entertaining and breezy history of Aramco. Reflecting his sources, Brown' s account is primarily about the 1933-78 period. Fewer than 30 pages cover the last 20 years, and this material is not useful and is marred by serious errors, such as the implausible and unsourced claim that Iran was responsible for the 1979 attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca by fanatic Sunnis. Also, in his account of Aramco's first decades, Brown's language is at times misleading. For instance, he asserts that the Saudis and Aramco cooperated with Nasserists against the British presence in the Arabian peninsula, without warning the reader that he is referring to isolated incidents in the early 1950s and that later Nasser and the Saudi kings became bitter enemies. As an entertaining history of Aramco, this book is recommended for general readers. For its source references, it is appropriate for graduate and research collections. P. Clawson; Washington Institute for Near East Policy