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.
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.
At a time when solid facts and reasoned arguments are in retreat, Daniel Yergin rides to the rescue. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and energy savant is armed to the teeth with enough telling statistics to sink an oil tanker ... Yergin provides an engaging survey course on the lifeblood of modern civilization – where the world has been and where it is likely headed. By the final page, the reader will feel like an energy expert herself ... This book is worth reading for its marvelous statistics alone ... If there is a complaint to be made about this thorough and valuable opus, it is that the reader yearns for Yergin to bust loose and pontificate. What would the smartest man in the room do in the face of the momentous challenge we and our descendants face?