Fans of the author’s previous books will appreciate the snappy prose and plethora of well-told anecdotes. The precise details of the first Saudi oil shipment to the US, for example (in 1948), or the Vietnamese territorial claim in the South China Sea (1933) might seem geeky and dull. But as related by Yergin, they are revealing and apposite ... The shale revolution did make a lot of people very rich. But an underappreciated fact is that although the output was real, the profits, so far, have been illusory. Oil and gas come out of the ground, but only as ever more money soaks into it. Indeed, some critics say the whole boom was an illusion based on unfounded optimism and $400 billion of cheap debt. A few nosey paragraphs on that would have been interesting ... [Yergin's] authorial canvas would have been panoramic even without the pandemic and he struggles a little to crowbar some mention of its effects into his 430 pages ... These notes of glibness reflect the fundamental problem with the book: telling a single story out of such a vast array of places, trends, dates and people. It is one thing to point out surprising connections, harder to weave them into a coherent picture. Russian foreign policy, for example, is certainly influenced by trends in the international oil and gas markets. So too is the US-China relationship. But it would be wrong to think that these factors are decisive in what Yergin thinks are looming new cold wars ... The book brings the general reader admirably up to date on the many subjects it covers. Those with specialist knowledge may yearn for the author to drill a bit deeper.
... what looks like the book for this moment...Alas, it does not quite deliver ... The first part of this story is deftly told, starting in the US with the pioneers who beat considerable odds to find a way to extract oil and gas from underground rocks known as shale. Yergin writes with the flair for dramatic detail that helped him win a 1992 Pulitzer for The Prize, a magisterial history of the oil industry ... Readers of The Quest, Yergin’s 2011 follow-up to The Prize, will find some of the new book’s terrain familiar. A little too familiar in parts ... There is, nonetheless, much to admire elsewhere. In chapters on China, the Middle East and Russia, Yergin offers sprightly insights for any general reader seeking to understand tensions in the South China Sea and the strife-torn Middle East or the background to Vladimir Putin’s efforts to restore Russia to great power status ... Yet readers keen to learn about the impact of climate change and the energy transition must wait until well after the book’s halfway mark ... But anyone hoping to read about solar power’s answer to George Mitchell, or about the people shaping the multibillion-dollar offshore wind industry, or the oil chief executives trying to drag their companies into the renewable energy business will be disappointed ... The foundations of the global energy system have shifted; it is hard to imagine a reversal and the book that explains who was responsible, how they did it and what happens next is still waiting to be written.
Yergin’s selection follows the contours of the fossil fuel economy, as seen from the point of view of the major oil and gas suppliers...But what about the rest? If energy is the theme, why does Yergin concentrate only on the producers? Oil and gas are worthless without demand. But the world’s big consumers — India, Europe and Japan — barely figure in his book ... No less striking is Yergin’s treatment, or rather nontreatment, of the United States. One might expect him to start with the strategies of the American oil majors. But Exxon and Chevron play almost no part in the narrative. Yergin’s main American subjects are the shale frackers. But they are small fry. They matter as a herd, not as individuals. They have changed world markets by vastly increasing quantity and flexibility of supply. This encouraged some American strategists to talk of “energy dominance.” But if that is a map, it has turned out to be utterly misleading. Grand visions for the export of the frackers’ liquefied natural gas have run up against the harsh realities of market competition. No big producer, not even Russia or Saudi Arabia, any longer controls the market. What this multiplicity of sources gives Washington is not dominance but flexibility. That is only of value if you know how to use it. And on American strategy Yergin is surprisingly silent ... Perhaps Yergin assumes that we have that map in our heads. Perhaps he wants to spare us the embarrassment of reviewing the shambles of Washington’s grand strategy since the war on terror. Perhaps he himself is conflicted, torn by America’s painful polarization. In the era of Trump there is not one American map. Yergin’s own position seems uncertain. He seems at odds with the recent turn against China. But he does not elaborate an alternative. On Russia, he merely notes that it has become a hot-button issue ... The result is a history without a center. A collage in which pigheaded Texan oil men, aspiring tech whizzes, Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi — dead in a drain pipe — Xi Jinping and his guy-pal Vladimir Putin, Saudi dynasts and vast arctic gas plants pass in review. The chronology is similarly helter-skelter. One minute we are pitching ideas to Elon Musk in Silicon Valley, the next we are back in 1916 peering over the shoulder of the diplomats who carved up the Ottoman Empire. At times it feels as if we are being whirled through a remix of the greatest hits from The Prize ... No less jarring is the alternation of voices. Here is Yergin the master storyteller transporting us to the Saudi desert in the late 1930s. And there is Yergin transcribing bullet points on the future of auto-tech. At times the juxtapositions are so disorienting that they evoke surreal associations ... If The Prize was an epic, The New Map is a miscellany ... might best be thought of as the narrative elaboration of a scenario planning exercise, a collection of unusually well-written backgrounders for managerial role-play ... Maybe it is wrong, therefore, to complain about the lack of narrative coherence. What Yergin is doing is holding up a mirror in which we see ourselves, the disillusioned survivors of the end-of-history moment, torn between the pros and cons of Uber, and vague worries about such problems as the historic impasse of Shia-Sunni relations or Putin’s revanchism. Yergin leaves it up to us to make what we will of his panorama. He is not going to do that work for us ... Given the timeline that we face, this blithe acceptance of indecision is a road map for catastrophe.