Empires and Anarchies
A History of Oil in the Middle East
by Michael Quentin Morton
Hardback: 256 pages, 55 b+w photographs, maps
ISBN 978-1780238104

Nothing can compare with the oilfields of the Middle East, which has the greatest oil reservoirs in the world. But, having created immense wealth, oil has not brought universal happiness to the region. The history of oil is not only about the great discoveries, but also about the transformation of people and societies, about the empires built on oil and the anarchies it has engendered.

This account is very different to the conventional narrative. Here the burnt-out remains of Saddam Hussein's armies and the human tragedy of the Arab Spring are as much of the story as the shimmering skylines of the oil-rich nations. From the first explorers trudging through the desert wastes to the excesses of the Peacock Throne and the high stakes of OPEC, the history of oil is described in all its aspects: how it enriched and fractured the Middle East, eroding traditional ways of life and seeing the rise of Islamic radicalism.

Empires and Anarchies presents a fascinating insight into the historical background of the region through the people and politics of oil. It provides essential reading for anyone intrigued by the promise and the curse of oil, as well as for those interested in how oil has played a crucial part in shaping the modern Middle East.

Published in July 2017 (Reaktion Books UK) and September 2017 (University of Chicago Press USA).


'An excellent, readable, introduction to the history and development of oil in the Middle East. following in the footsteps of Daniel Yergin's authoritative study, The Prize. It is a complicated story but Quentin Morton handles it well with engaging, insightful, and humorous details that bring the broader international, political, and social aspects into high relief.' J.E. Peterson, editor of The Emergence of the Gulf: Studies in Modern History.

 ‘In this highly readable book, Morton takes us from the mid-19th century to the present day, charting the history of oil in the Middle East . . . This is a complicated area, incorporating a maelstrom of colonial interests and an emergence of US extraterritorial manoeuvring, but Morton writes soberly, identifying key figures and making a dense subject accessible to the non-specialist. The worldwide impact of the oil industry, nascent just over a century ago, and the machinations for its control mean this is a fascinating, disturbing and concerning story of an industry breeding discontent from the outset.' Tom Garbett, Law Society Gazette.

 For the full review, click here.

'Following hard on his Third River, reviewed in this Journal in March 2016, which dealt with the history of the Iraq Petroleum Company, Quentin Morton has enlarged his canvas to take in the story of oil in the heart of the Middle East from the earliest quests in Iran and Iraq over a century ago to its advent in all Arabia and all the convulsions of the region through to the present year. This is of course a supremely ambitious undertaking, but he has achieved his aim. Morton has managed to set out a thorough, well-researched and lucid account of the whole complicated story in an enjoyably readable style.' Julian Lush, Journal of Asian Affairs (2018), vol. XLIX, no.1, pp. 134-142.

For the full review, click here.

Morton tells the story of oil prospecting, discoveries, and development in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen from the 1850s to 2016 . . . Despite an insider's knowledge of British companies operating in the region, his history of the rise of national oil companies and of oil prices in the 1970s seems balanced, as he can also empathize with nationalist grievances against imperial powers. While carefully martialing all the circumstantial evidence to the contrary, Morton argues that access to Iraqi oil was not the prime driver of the US decision (without approval from the UN Security Council) to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003. Recommended.' - Choice




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