The Hydrocarbon Man

Could you imagine your life without petroleum? Our daily lives from the food we eat to the cars we drive depend on the oil industry. Without oil, we would not have our comfortable life of abundance and hyper-connectivity. I always knew oil was important and that it had influenced a lot of our world politics in the last century. I never knew the full extent of how oil shaped the hydrocarbon man until I read the The Prize by Daniel Yergin. This book is 800 pages of pure geological-political-historical-orgasmical enjoyment. It won the Pulitzer Prize and encompasses the rise of the world-oil industry between 1859 to 1991. Suffice it to say there is no easy way to summarize this book. There are some very important events in world oil that everyone should know:

1859-“Colonel” Drake drills the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania
1870-John D. Rockefeller forms Standard Oil Company
1873-Oil fields in Russia open for development
1896-Henry Ford builds his first car
1901-Gusher at Spindletop, Texas discovered: beginning of Sun, Texaco, Gulf
1903-Wright Brothers first flight
1907-First drive-in gasoline station opens in St. Louis, MO
1908-Discovery of oil in modern day Iran
1910-Discovery of “Golden Lane” in Mexico
1911-US Supreme Court rules dissolution of Standard Oil Trust
1914-World War I sees first mechanization of battlefield and need for secure oil
1922-Discovery of oil in Venezuela
1930-Discovery of biggest oil deposit in East Texas
1936-Hitler occupies the Rhineland and ramps up synthetic fuel production
1938-Discovery of oil in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
1938-Mexico nationalizes foreign oil operations
1939-WWII begins with all countries heavily dependent on oil to mobilize soldiers and weaponry
1951-Iran nationalizes foreign oil operations
1952-First Holiday Inn opens (middle-class hitting the open road)
1955-First McDonald’s opens in suburban Chicago
1956-Discovery of oil in Nigeria and Algeria
1960-OPEC founded in Baghdad
1968-Oil discovered in Alaska
1973-Yom Kippur War: Arab Oil Embargo (price per barrel rises from to $2.90 to $11.65)
1975-Automobile Fuel Efficiency Standards introduced in America
1979-Iran overthrow of Shah and Iranian hostage crisis
1981-Panic from problems in Iran send oil from $13 to $34 dollars a barrel
1982-OPEC implements first quotas
1983-First launch of Crude Oil Futures
1989-Exxon Valdez tanker accident
1991-Gulf War motivated by large reserves of oil in Kuwait

That is a lot of dates but they are all very important to understand. In the beginning, America was the main world producer of kerosene which was used for lamps. Uses for oil started to change with advancements in the combustible engine. At the turn of the 20th century, oil was starting to be used for gasoline in automobiles and fuel oil for all types of transportation. World War I was an experimentation in technology and showed countries how crucial it was to have secure access to oil reserves. The outcome of World War II was determined by who had the most oil. Germany and Japan both exhausted their supplies and were helpless to move their war equipment in the last battles. After World War II, the Middle East came center stage in supplying industrialized countries and the US was no longer a supreme exporter of oil. The Middle East would use their oil to increase prices and control foreign policy up until the 1980’s. In the 80s, oil began being traded on the futures market and its price was no longer exclusively controlled by OPEC. Oil is everywhere and has shaped our modern day lifestyle, politics, and even geo-political borders. I highly recommend reading this book because it shines light on our interconnected world and how it was shaped by a single commodity.


The Nazi Bible

Did Hitler one day just wake up with the revelation, “I don’t like Jews and I like blond-haired-blue-eyed people!” Of course this is not how Hitler came to some of his beliefs but what did shape his beliefs and those of the Nazi party? This question was answered in A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich by Christopher B. Krebs. Enter Cornelius Tacitus. Tacitus was a Roman senator and historian who lived between 56 to 117 AD. He was quite a famous writer during his time and is most known for writing the Annals and the Histories which cover the reigns of certain Roman Emperors. Tacitus also wrote the Germania in 98 AD which described the Germanen people who lived in the northern unconquered areas of present day Germany, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic, and a few Scandinavian countries. The people that lived in these areas during the days of Tacitus were a hodgepodge of barbaric tribes which were not united and fought each other regularly. In the Germania, the land and the customs of the various tribes are described: a people that were unmixed with other races who had fierce blue eyes, tawny red hair, large frames, athletic builds, strong work ethics, habitual drunkenness, and harsh punishments for breaking societal rules. Tacitus never went to visit these lands or tribes and received his information from literary sources and third-person accounts. By no means was the Germania meant to be an accurate historical account but rather a mosaic of political and moral underpinnings meant to send a message to the Roman people. The message was that the barbarians had certain traits which were lacking in Roman society (simplicity, bravery, and hospitality) and that the Germanen tribes were a discernible threat to the empire.

The Germania went into obscurity and was not rediscovered until 1421. The accidental unearthing of this document by post-medieval humanists couldn’t have come at a better time. In the 1500’s, Germany was not a country and the people living in the area did not have a strong understanding of their history, language, or culture. Scholars clung to the Germania as true “German” history and took it as proof that they descended from a  pure, hardy, and moral stock. For the next two centuries, the Germania was sorely misinterpreted to show that Germany actually was the birth of republic government, culture, and the human race. In the 1800’s, with increases in scientific understanding, the Germania was interpreted to show the Germans to be biologically superior through racial purity-further uplifting the Nordic/Aryan image. During this time, students and the middle-class were able to read publications that used excerpts from the Germania to push for German nationalism and moral rectitude (Germany became an independent country in 1871).  Picking up steam in the 1900’s, the Völkisch movement (similar to the Populist movement in America) was a set of beliefs that used the Germania to argue that Germany had to return to its past when there were no demoralized cities and the virtues of the farmer were held to the highest regard; the profession of farming represented purity and this further stemmed the belief that Aryans were the pure race. Antisemitism has roots in this movement because the Jews were foreigners tainting the German race and they many times had communities in cities where they worked in business.

The Germania directly influenced philosophical ideals in Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf. Furthermore, Hitler’s top SS commander, Heinrich Himmler, was obsessed with the Germania and pushed the idea of racial purity much more then any other Nazi member. Himmler was extremely influential in the implementation of the Holocaust and made sure the Hitler Youth received twisted education on the Germania. If the Nazi party had a bible I would say the Germania would be the number one candidate. It is now clear to see how just one book can influence people in a very dangerous way. The Germania was misinterpreted throughout the ages to suit the desires of the readers. When not critically analyzed and put into historical context, all books lose their original meanings. Education is powerful and if this one book was never written would World War II have ever occurred? Interesting to think about and it makes me wonder if there is a book out there that could repeat this warped ideology in the future.