In This Review
Oil Leaders: An Insider’s Account of Four Decades of Saudi Arabia and OPEC’s Global Energy Policy

Oil Leaders: An Insider’s Account of Four Decades of Saudi Arabia and OPEC’s Global Energy Policy

By Ibrahim Almuhanna

Columbia University Press, 2022, 304 pp.

This book is an unexpectedly candid glimpse into the usually murky world of Saudi oil policy by an unusually knowledgeable guide: AlMuhanna was an adviser to the Saudi Ministry of Petroleum (now Ministry of Energy), working with pivotal actors for nearly 30 years. Thoughtful and perceptive, he emphasizes the role of individual leaders in making policy: variations in knowledge, education, ambition, and skill loom large when formal institutions, from international organizations to domestic bureaucracies, are new or fragile. When it comes to fluctuations in oil prices, AlMuhanna deftly and persuasively illustrates the outsize importance of actors with little interest in oil itself, including those in “hedge funds, banks, and other traders in the futures market,” politicians beholden to domestic constituencies, and partisans advocating for spending on development or conserving for future generations. And then there are the piques and temper tantrums of ministry officials and company executives who irritate their bosses, play politics or get into personal tiffs with their counterparts in other countries. In this telling, human foibles often eclipse market fundamentals.