The New Map by Daniel Yergin


The latest book I’ve finished reading with my weekly climate change book club is The New Map by Daniel Yergin. At $38, I think this was the most expensive non-textbook book I’ve ever purchased, but I think it was well worth it. (The price at my local bookstore is still $38, but on Amazon it’s now dropped to $29.)

Yergin’s accomplishments include being the vice chairman of IHS Markit, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and serving on the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board under the last four presidents. He seems to know his stuff, and overall our whole group agreed that the book provided a lot of really interesting insight into the world of energy flows and geopolitics while still being very friendly and easy to read. I especially enjoyed the first section, “America’s Map” – I found it pretty crazy how much the development of shale fracking has changed the U.S. oil and gas landscape in the past two decades, and furthermore how unaware I was of this huge shift. The following several sections (about Russia, China, and the Middle East) were similarly informative and well-written, though admittedly I’ve only made it through about half of the Middle East section.

General theme while reading this book: There is so much I didn’t know (and still a lot I don’t know) about geopolitics and the oil and gas world.

The subtitle of The New Map is “Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations.” While the book is really great on the topics of “Energy” and “the Clash of Nations,” our group felt that it underdelivered somewhat on the “Climate” part. The section of the book devoted to “Climate” is relatively short, and while it generally was accurate, it didn’t seem to go into the same depth that was so impressive about the other sections of the book. Battery energy storage systems get only a brief mention, about the same attention as 3D printing (which while impactful, does not strike me as being as anywhere near as important climate-wise as battery energy storage). I definitely got the sense that Yergin is mostly concerned with how climate change policies will affect the energy world, and is maybe even a little skeptical of recent calls for urgency on climate action. I would have loved to read something about his thoughts on, say, how energy systems might be proactively reshaped to reduce impact and adapt to a changing world, but I think Yergin tends to be pretty conservative in his imagination of the future and generally believes that oil and gas will continue to play a major role for decades to come. (I don’t intend to imply that his views are necessarily right or wrong.)

TL;DR: Great book for learning about how the energy world works, especially as it relates to geopolitics. Lots of big-world things that I didn’t previously understand well or wasn’t previously aware of. Read this to learn about all that stuff, but don’t expect to be inspired by the climate change discussion. Overall would recommend.