Ammann, Daniel. The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2009. c.320p. illus. index. ISBN 978-0-312-57074-3. $26.99. BUS
Swiss journalist Ammann surely got the scoop of his career when notorious commodities trader Marc Rich agreed to meet with him, which resulted in this remarkable book. Rich fled to Switzerland in 1983 to avoid prosecution for tax fraud; President Clinton’s last-day pardon of Rich ignited a firestorm of controversy. As Ammann rightly claims, very little was known about this “most successful and controversial commodities trader the world has ever seen.” He offers rare insight into Rich’s youth in a Belgian Jewish family who narrowly escaped the Nazis, shows how Rich became involved in the earliest stages of commodities trading, and credits him with inventing the “spot oil market,” which ultimately ended control by the “seven sisters” cartel companies (hence the book’s title). But it’s in regard to Rich’s involvement with foreign countries, especially Israel, that Ammann provides the most significant new disclosures. Is Rich a rogue or a philanthropic businessman? Ammann lets readers draw their own conclusion.
VERDICT This book reads like a cross between a rags-to-riches saga and a cloak-and-dagger thriller, but it’s also an excellent and timely primer on the world of commodities trading within a global economy and will greatly appeal to readers interested in current events. — Richard Drezen, Brooklyn, NY