The best books about the oil industry

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by how power and money work, and hopeful that we can change the world for the better by subverting both. In the 1990s, when I started travelling to, and writing about, Russia, I became aware of how completely oil and gas completely dominated Russia’s economy, its power structures, and its people’s lives. I learned about how oil, gas, power, and money relate to each other, and for 14 years (2007-2021) wrote about those interconnections as a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. 

I wrote...

Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption

By Simon Pirani,

Book cover of Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption

What is my book about?

Coal, gas, and oil have been the main fuels used by society since the industrial revolution. But more have been burned in the last 50 years than in the rest of history. Most alarming of all, fossil fuel consumption has grown fastest in the last three decades, since scientists confirmed that it is the main cause of potentially devastating global warming.

Burning Up traces fossil fuels’ relentless rise since the mid-twentieth century. It dispels explanations that focus on individual consumption, and shows that fossil fuels are consumed through technological, social, and economic systems – and that all these systems must change. This is a history book that speaks to the climate crisis, the greatest crisis of our time.

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The books I picked & why

Cities of Salt

By Abdelrahman Munif,

Book cover of Cities of Salt

Why did I love this book?

I love novels that view the world through the eyes of cultures that are different from my own. In Cities of Salt, we see the arrival of US oil companies in the Middle East through the eyes of one of the oasis communities that lived there, in relative peace and isolation, before the oil wells were drilled. The narrative traces how men and women’s lives are first interrupted, and then disrupted, confounded, and corrupted by the oil industry and the vast sums of money it generated. The novel is the first of a trilogy, set in a kingdom that is never named. The fact that Abdelrahman Munif (1933-2004) was an oil economist, deprived of his citizenship of Saudi Arabia and driven into exile for his political views, gives us a big clue about which country he was thinking of.

By Abdelrahman Munif,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cities of Salt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first English translation of a major Arab writer's novel that reveals the lifestyle and beliefs of a Bedouin tribe in the 1930s. Set in an unnamed Persian Gulf kingdom, the story tells of the cultural confrontation between American oilmen and a poor oasis community.

Book cover of Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil in the Niger Delta

Why did I love this book?

In 2003 I went to Nigeria to write a report on oil companies’ “corporate social responsibility” in the Niger Delta. There was, and is, no such responsibility. The companies finance corrupt officials, wreck communities, and allow oil spills to poison millions of people’s drinking water. Under the Abacha dictatorship in the 1990s, they colluded with violent suppression of protest against their activities, culminating in the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the “Ogoni Nine”. This book showed me how Shell’s naked exploitation of people and their land worked, the systems of power that supported it, and how these evolved over time. One of the authors, Oronto Douglas, has passed away, but both participated in communities’ self-defence in the face of these systems. Their book is passionate, engaged, and razor-sharp analytically.

By Ike Okonta, Oronto Douglas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Where Vultures Feast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 22 February 1895, a naval force laid siege to Brass, the chief city of the Ijo people of Nembe in Nigeria's Niger Delta. After severe fighting, the city was razed. More than two thousand people perished in the attack. A hundred years later, the world was shocked by the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa--writer, political activist, and leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. Again the people of Nembe were locked in a grim life--and--death struggle to safeguard their livelihood from two forces: a series of corrupt and repressive Nigerian governments and the giant multinational Royal…

Book cover of Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq

Why did I love this book?

The frightful violence of the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 was followed by a long, complicated war of stealth by the international oil companies. They sought access to Iraq’s oil reserves, the world’s third-largest, from which they had been ousted by nationalisation in the 1970s. Most western journalists simply could not be bothered to follow the complex interactions between the companies, the oil ministry, and civil society. That made reading this forensic investigation by Greg Muttitt, a committed campaigner for oil industry transparency, all the more satisfying.  

By Greg Muttitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fuel on the Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The departure of the last U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 left a broken country and a host of unanswered questions. What was the war really about? Why and how did the occupation drag on for nearly nine years, while most Iraqis, Britons, and Americans desperately wanted it to end? And why did the troops have to leave?

Now, in a gripping account of the war that dominated U.S. foreign policy over the last decade, investigative journalist Greg Muttitt takes us behind the scenes to answer some of these questions and reveals the heretofore-untold story of the…

Book cover of Oil, Water, and Climate: An Introduction

Why did I love this book?

As a non-scientist, I love reading books written by scientists in language that the rest of us can understand. This is one of the best – and it addresses many of the most urgent questions scientists will keep worrying about through the 21st century, about the interaction between oil production and use, the atmosphere, the oceans, and freshwater systems. Catherine Gautier writes in a clear, accessible style. She is well aware that we can not fence off the study of physical phenomena such as climate change and contamination of water sources from the study of society, economics, and politics.  

By Catherine Gautier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oil, Water, and Climate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today's oil and gas are at record prices, whilst global energy demand is increasing from population and economic development pressures. Climate change, resulting in large part from the burning of fossil fuels, is exacerbating the impacts of the excelerated exploitation of our natural resources. Therefore, anxieties over energy, water, and climate security are at an all-time high. Global action is needed now in order to address this set of urgent challenges and to avoid putting the future of our civilization at risk. This book examines the powerful interconnections that link energy, water, climate and population, exploring viable options in addressing…

Book cover of Private Empire: Exxonmobil and American Power

Why did I love this book?

The team that is ExxonMobil and the US government is like a two-headed dragon, raging across the world, grabbing resources, bullying governments, trampling on people’s livelihoods, and dragging us all closer to disastrous climate change. But there’s something grimly satisfying about reading this account of their evil deeds. It makes you realise that we have found them out. Steve Coll has followed every lead, checked every detail, and pinned down his subjects, in US journalism’s finest traditions. 

By Steve Coll,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Private Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"ExxonMobil has met its match in Coll, an elegant writer and dogged reporter . . . extraordinary . . . monumental." -The Washington Post

"Fascinating . . . Private Empire is a book meticulously prepared as if for trial . . . a compelling and elucidatory work." -Bloomberg

From the award-winning and bestselling author of Ghost Wars and Directorate S, an extraordinary expose of Big Oil. Includes a profile of current Secretary of State and former chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson

In this, the first hard-hitting examination of ExxonMobil-the largest and most powerful private corporation in the…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fossil fuels, the Middle East, and climate change?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fossil fuels, the Middle East, and climate change.

Fossil Fuels Explore 14 books about fossil fuels
The Middle East Explore 172 books about the Middle East
Climate Change Explore 169 books about climate change