Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

ECONOMIC CONDITIONS: The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

ECONOMIC CONDITIONS: The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea

Article excerpt

The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea, by Steve LeVine. New York: Random House, 2007. xxiv + 399 pages. Chron. Maps. Acknowl. to p. 404. Bibl. to p. 408. Notes to p. 447. Index to p. 470. $27.95.

Reviewed by Robert M. Cutler

Steve LeVine's new book on energy and politics in the Caspian Sea region is, as he writes on page 407, largely the product of several hundred interviews conducted from 1992 through 2007. LeVine was foreign correspondent in the Caucasus and Central Asia from 1992 to 2003, freelancing for a raft of publications ranging from Newsweek to the Financial Times before becoming bureau chief in the region for the Wall Street Journal. His name will be familiar to members of the attentive public.

The first three chapters cover the ground from the discovery of oil in the region in the mid-19th century through the Bolshevik Revolution, and the next three deal with the Soviet period. Chapters 7 through 11 discuss the deals that Western oilmen tried to make as the Soviet Union was disintegrating and in its immediate aftermath, focusing on the Tengiz in Kazakhstan and the Azerbaijani offshore fields.

The following five chapters deepen the discussion of the international politics affecting the implementation of those deals (Russia in the "Near Abroad," the policies of the Clinton Administration, etc.). In these chapters, the discussion moves to pipeline construction, focusing on the routes of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (northwest Kazakhstan to the Black Sea) and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan route (offshore Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean coast). The last five chapters return to discuss Kazakhstan, its offshore Kashagan deposit, and some general retrospection on the period 1992-2007. In passing, the book also paints a broader canvas of the transformation of the international energy industry since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, with fascinating and readable discussions of different technologies. It concludes with an epilogue that reads like a "where are they now" review of the major players to whom LeVine has introduced us.

Unlike the genre of journalist travelogues to which the mass market has grown accustomed since at least the mid-1970s, LeVine's book represents a primary historical source, in some ways unique. …

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