Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy is Matthew Simmons’ thoroughly researched and well-documented account of Saudi Arabia’s aging oil fields and what it means for the global economy. In the book, Simmons argues that Saudi Arabia’s years of plenty may soon be behind it. The focus on Saudi Arabia is critical since the Kingdom supplies about 70% of the world’s spare oil capacity. Even the smallest decline in the Kingdom’s oil output could wreak financial havoc on the industrialized world.
Style – 5.00
One of this book’s benefits is that Matthew Simmons looks under every rock to get a comprehensive picture of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. The downside of this detailed approach is that the book can be very technical and sometimes gets into the minutia of the oil and gas business. Furthermore, Simmons is not the most entertaining of writers. As such, it can be extremely difficult to read more than ten or twenty pages at a stretch.
Therefore, I rate the book’s style a 5.0 out of ten.
Structure – 7.00
At a high level, the book has a chronological structure that starts with the history of Saudi oil production. However, it sometimes jumps back and forth between the history and the central thesis of the book. I think it might have been more effective for Simmons to choose one approach rather than combine the two. My opinion is that a thesis-driven structure may have helped make the book a bit easier to read and follow.
Overall, the book receives a rating of 7.0 out of ten for structure.
Substance – 10.00
Twilight in the Desert covers the history of Saudi oil production from its very beginning in the early twentieth century to its maturation in the last decade. Simmons spends a great deal of time covering the dynamics of the oil industry in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. He notes:
“Ninety percent of all the oil that Saudi Arabia has ever produced has come from seven giant fields. All have now matured and grown old, but they still continue to provide around 90 percent of current Saudi oil output. The Kingdom’s three most important fields have been producing at very high rates for over 50 years.”
Simmons also compares Saudi production at these super giant fields with other major fields that had similar rates of production in the United States, China, the former Soviet Union, Norway, and the United Kingdom, among others. All these fields have reached peak production, and most have experienced a dramatic decline thereafter.
Simmons’ evidence is compelling, and his logic is impeccable. Therefore, I rate the book’s substance a solid 10.0.
Sentiment – 10.00
To be fair, I already agreed with Matthew Simmons before I read his book. However, his arguments are well-researched and compelling, and they solidified my beliefs in peak oil.
More importantly, Matthew Simmons is not some pot-smoking, hippie environmentalist wacko. He is a serious businessman and investment banker with decades of experience in the oil and gas industry.
He data-intensive approach also really resonated with the way I process and view the world. Consequently, I rate the book’s sentiment a 10.00 out of ten.
Significance – 8.00
This book may turn out to be one of the most prescient warnings of the twenty-first century. If Simmons turns out to be right about the imminent and sharp decline of Saudi oil production, the global economy and America’s way of life could experience a sharp and unstable decline. Given elevated oil prices over the past several years, the world may already be on the edge of this precipice.
Because his predictions seem to be so timely, I rate the book 8.0 out of ten in this category.
Overall Rating – 8.60
The book’s overall rating is 8.60 out of ten, after assigning the appropriate weights to each item. If you have any interest in peak oil theory, or want to learn more about the difficulties of extracting oil from aging oil fields, this book is a must read.