Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Peter Maass' "Crude World"

Peter Maass is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and has reported from the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa. He has written as well for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post and Slate. Maass is the author of Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, which chronicled the Bosnian war and won prizes from the Overseas Press Club and the Los Angeles Times.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, and reported the following:
I pass the test!

I try in my book to combine narrative writing about oil—vivid descriptions of people, places and journeys—with useful ideas that show how oil shapes us. I particularly focus on countries that possess an abundance of oil yet have become poorer and more violent for it. The places and situations I ventured into included the troubled Niger Delta of Nigeria, the anarchy of Baghdad after American troops arrived in 2003, and Equatorial Guinea, which is a small country with a lot of oil and from which I was expelled on charges of being a spy (which I’m not, by the way). I weave into these narratives a variety of ideas about oil—theories of social and economic development, connections between resources and warfare, as well as solutions for the problems.

On page 99, I describe a journey I made into Ecuador’s Amazon region, where indigenous Indians are trying to prevent drilling on their pristine land. “The Cessna circled over a clearing of thatched huts and dropped to a bumpy landing on a dirt airstrip,” I write. “I had arrived in Sarayaku, and after unloading my backpack and standing clear as the plane turned around and hopped back into the sky, I was wrapped in the thick heat and vibrant noise of the Amazon.” The journey continues (colorfully, I think) yet I also explain on page 99 how the situation in Sarayaku illustrates the unceasing incentives to drill despite local resistance. “Oil firms are not like door-to-door salesman who, turned away from one house, go to other houses, other streets, other towns,” I explain. “There are a finite number of reservoirs in the world, so oil companies have a limited number of doors to knock on.” I think the page offers narrative as well perspective—and I hope the book as a whole does that, too!
Read an excerpt from Crude World, and learn more about the book and author at Peter Maass' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue