Book Review (5/5) – The Absent Superpower (Peter Zeihan)
Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.
Originally published on Goodreads.
The first part of this book is about shale – what it is, how it works and what the history is. It’s written in a somewhat technical but still easy to understand way, is mostly neutral but is definitely on the positive side of the technology and its benefits (the Appendix covers the negatives and counters to them). This is interesting, but not revolutionary. What it does do is set up the rest of the book.
The first chapter of the second part is an amazingly concise yet comprehensive discussion and analysis of modern history leading into the geo-strategic position of all the major countries as of 2016. If you read nothing else, this chapter is worth the full 5 stars. It’s a great explanation of why we are where we are (as of 2016, when the book was written).
The rest of the book is a prediction of what is going to happen as the US becomes less interested in being the “world police” and starts supplying all of its own energy (oil/natgas) needs. Regardless of how much you buy into the predictions, the narrative is compelling reading and helps understand some of the more unusual aspects of activity by certain countries e.g. why China is focused on coal power generation vs renewables.
As the chapters progressed, I found they become more and more premised on earlier assumptions which if a few key things fail to materialise, a good half of the book is wrong. The author says this is not supposed to be a detailed prediction, but does make some very detailed predictions. In that sense, I found it to be somewhat incredible.
Nonetheless, it is an important thought experiment and is based in a good degree of fact regarding state positions (both public, and what they are doing). Certain things the author predicted e.g. trouble caused by Iran in the shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz, have started to happen.
Despite not believing most of the predictions, I still found this a compelling “what if” discussion that really highlights how our entire global stability is built on oil. That is not a good place to be.