The best books about the oil and gas industry

Many authors have picked their favorite books about the oil and gas industry and why they recommend each book.

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The Energy of Slaves

By Andrew Nikiforuk,

Book cover of The Energy of Slaves

If the goods and services that we enjoy in America today all had to be provided by human muscle power, we would each, on average, need roughly 150 people working full-time for us. Instead, fossil fuels do the work. The good news: coal helped end the horrors of slavery. The bad news: we’re all now utterly dependent on an energy system that’s destroying the world and the survival prospects of future generations. In many ways, we have become slaves to the fossil fuel regime, and Nikiforuk explains how. This book deserved far more attention than it received when published in 2012.

Who am I?

I’m a systems thinker (Senior Fellow at an environmental think tank, author of 14 books and hundreds of essays) who’s addicted to trying to understand the world. After a few decades, the following is my state of understanding. Power is everywhere and determines everything in our lives. Whether due to the physical power of energy channeled through technology, or the social power of organizations and money, we’re enabled or disabled daily. During the last century, fossil-fueled humanity has overpowered planetary systems, as evidenced by climate change, species extinctions, and resource depletion. Few think critically about power. Unless we start doing so, we may be inviting the ultimate disempowerment—extinction.


I wrote...

Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival

By Richard Heinberg,

Book cover of Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival

What is my book about?

Our human obsession with power has roots in nature and evolution. The same goes for our efforts to limit power--whether through climate negotiations, nuclear arms treaties, or government programs to reduce economic inequality. But lately, we have gotten ourselves into a fix: fossil fuels have increased our power over nature (and one another) so much and so fast that we are putting future generations in peril. Meanwhile, economic inequality is growing throughout the world, destabilizing governments and making it harder to manage our vexing social problems. If we're going to survive this turbulent century we need to understand power much better--and this book aims to help readers do just that. 

The Seven Sisters

By Anthony Sampson,

Book cover of The Seven Sisters: The great oil companies & the world they shaped

The major source of greenhouse gases that are the root cause of climate change are from our energy use. Therefore, in order to understand how to effectively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, one must understand our energy systems. I read this book many years ago, but it taught me so much about how the oil and gas industry works. The Seven Sisters refer to the seven major oil companies that dominated the oil industry in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though the industry has changed greatly since then, the story of how oil and gas came to dominate the world’s energy systems is still relevant today.  


Who am I?

I have been consulting and conducting research on climate change for over 30 years as a member of the research staff at MIT. While I originally approached the topic from a technological viewpoint, I quickly understood that that was only one piece of the equation. It was also important to understand the science, the policy, the economics, the politics, and the social aspects of climate change. In selecting my book recommendations, I wanted to cover the many different aspects of climate change.


I wrote...

Carbon Capture

By Howard J. Herzog,

Book cover of Carbon Capture

What is my book about?

I wrote this book for the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series to give a concise guide to carbon capture for the non-specialist.  Carbon capture refers to a suite of technologies that reduce CO2 emissions by “capturing” CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere and then transporting it to where it will be stored or used. These technologies can also remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere. For many years, carbon capture was a promising but often overlooked climate change mitigation pathway. However, the recent increase in urgency to deal with climate change has elevated the interest in carbon capture. 

My book explains the fundamentals of carbon capture, as well as the larger context of climate technology and policy.  

America's Kingdom

By Robert Vitalis,

Book cover of America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier

Vitalis' meticulously researched volume is about Saudi Arabia and the United States. In lucid prose, he makes the controversial case that American oil prospectors in the 20th century recreated the patterns of domination that dominated the exploitation of resources in the American West in Saudi Arabia. The argument smashes long-held truths and myths about the origins of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.


Who am I?

Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for the Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is a columnist at Foreign Policy magazine and an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as U.S. Middle East policy. 


I wrote...

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

By Steven A. Cook,

Book cover of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

What is my book about?

The Struggle for Egypt is a sweeping political history of Egypt that takes readers from the crystallization of Egyptian nationalism in the late 19th century up to the January 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. The book underscores that Egypt was never as stable as commonly assumed and that the demonstrations that shook Egypt a decade were consistent with a long history during which Egyptians rebelled against their leaders. This accessible text, written from a "close to the ground" perspective, provides invaluable insight into the Middle East's largest and most influential country. It is for history buffs, policy geeks, and Middle East obsessives.

Come, The Restorer

By William Goyen,

Book cover of Come, The Restorer

This is one of my all-time favorite novels, though I'm not quite sure how to explain it. Set in a small Texas town, Come, The Restorer is a strange, hallucinatory, and comical novel where nothing is quite normal, in fact far from it. Among the cast of characters are Mr. de Persia who becomes a prophet to the townspeople after he is discovered in a glass bathtub with an erection, the virginal Jewel Adair who following her husband's fiery death begins roaming the countryside naked, and Addis, Jewel's adopted son, who is on a singular quest to make himself a Panhandle saint. There's just no other book like this one.


Who am I?

I'm Mitch Cullin, or so I've been told. Besides being the ethical nemesis of the late Jon Lellenberg and his corrupt licensing/copyright trolls at the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., I'm also a documentary photographer, very occasional author of books, and full-time wrangler of feral cats.


I wrote...

Tideland

By Mitch Cullin,

Book cover of Tideland

What is my book about?

Tideland was the third book in my West Texas Trilogy. It was designed to be highly metaphorical and fantastical. While I'm not much of a fan about pontificating on my own novels, I can relate that the underlying themes of the book deal with the resilience of children, issues of abandonment, and how a creative imagination can power through trauma.

Cities of Salt

By Abdelrahman Munif,

Book cover of Cities of Salt

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.


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.

Private Empire

By Steve Coll,

Book cover of Private Empire: Exxonmobil and American Power

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. 


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.

Fuel on the Fire

By Greg Muttitt,

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

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.  


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.

The Oil Kings

By Andrew Scott Cooper,

Book cover of The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

A highly readable tome, Cooper’s account of how the oil politics of the 1970s revolutionized U.S. foreign policy and the Persian Gulf is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the political landscape of the Middle East. Cooper traces the personal interactions among the Shah of Iran, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, and the House of Saud in the midst of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the consequent oil embargo, the formation of OPEC, and the early stirrings of revolution in Iran. Perhaps most helpful, this book dispels many misperceptions about Iran under the Shah while also showing how the United States played an integral role in weakening his regime prior to the 1979 revolution.


Who am I?

I'm a Communication professor at Fresno Pacific University and former Fulbright grantee to Jordan. Growing up in west Texas I was always fascinated with other countries. I encountered Arabic in college, and I quickly fell in love with a language and society that reminded me so much of my home—in fact, the word “haboob” is used by Texas farmers and Bedouin herders alike to describe a violent dust storm. While I was teaching English in Amman, I realized how much I enjoy learning how different cultures come to understand one another. My driving passion is to explore the centuries-long rhetorical history tying Americans and Middle Easterners together in mutual webs of (mis)representation, and this topic has never been more relevant than today.


I wrote...

More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

By Randall Fowler,

Book cover of More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

What is my book about?

Nowadays, the Middle East can seem a quite complicated place. Between ISIS and Iran, Arabs and Israelis, Kurds and Turks, Yazidis and Druze, not to mention oil, Islam, terrorism, Judaism, and Christianity, the issues and conflicts that divide the region often appear bewildering to the average American—much less the ever-changing question of what U.S. foreign policy should be in the region.

My book cuts through those issues to directly explain the origins of American intervention in the Middle East during the Cold War. I use the lens of presidential rhetoric to trace the arguments, fears, and actions that drove U.S. policymakers to get involved in this important region in the first place. I show that many of the anxieties commentators currently voice about the Arab Muslim world are rather similar to the worries felt by Eisenhower and his team. My book demonstrates how major events like the Suez Crisis, Eisenhower Doctrine, coup in Iran, and the 1958 marine landing in Lebanon are still quite relevant to us today. 

Bookshelves related to the oil and gas industry