Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Book Review - The King of Oil

The King of Oil is Daniel Ammann's biography of Marc Rich. Between reading Metal Men and the considerable press coverage of the pardon given to Marc Rich and his former partner Pincus Green, I was expecting a book devoted to detailed run down of Rich's wrong doings as well as a portrait of the man and coverage of his personal life. Ammann delivered on the last two items, narrating Rich fleeing the Nazi occupation of Western Europe to arrive in Europe, his beginnings as a commodity trader, rise within Phillipp Brothers and establishment of his own trading company.

The more interesting part of the book concerned Rich's fall from grace and the handling of the criminal charges which were brought against him. Ammann does a good job in exposing the seriously flawed way in which his case was handled by the American law enforcement authorities. Specifically, the political motivation from elevating what was at the time treated as a civil tax dispute to criminal status, using the racketeering laws in a tax case (which the Justice Department no longer does) and the open willingness of the American law enforcement authorities to flout the laws and sovereignty of other countries.

While Rich does not emerge as a sympathetic character (save in respect of his work ethic and the death of his daughter) and, at the very least deserves a degree of moral criticism, Ammann manages to portray Rich as a more complex character than the media have generally done.

Well worth a read.

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