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The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich [Hardcover]

Daniel Ammann
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 13 2009

Billionaire oil trader Marc Rich for the first time talks at length about his private life (including his expensive divorce from wife Denise); his invention of the spot oil market which made his fortune and changed the world economy; his lucrative and unpublicized dealings with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, Fidel Castro’s Cuba, war-ravaged Angola, and apartheid South Africa; his quiet cooperation with the Israeli and U.S. governments (even after he was indicted for tax fraud by Rudy Guiliani) and near-comical attempts by U.S. officials to kidnap him illegally.

This sure-to-make-headlines book is the first no-holds-barred biography of Rich, who was famously pardoned by Bill Clinton, and resurfaced in the news during the confirmation hearings of Attorney General Eric Holder. The King of Oil sheds stunning new light on one of the most controversial international businessmen of all time, charting Rich’s rise from the Holocaust, which he fled as a young boy, to become the wealthiest and most powerful oil and commodities trader of the century. From his earliest trading days to the present, Marc Rich’s story is astonishing and compelling.

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“It’s a psychological thriller, each page percolating with the triumphant darkness that is Marc David Rich.”--Bloomberg  News

"An empathetic look at the notorious Marc Rich, one of the most successful and controversial commodities traders in recent history and a key figure in the invention of the spot market. With unparalleled access to Rich, his family and associates, business journalist Ammann paints a nuanced portrait of the man vilified for trading with Iran and apartheid-era South Africa, accused of being the biggest tax fraudster in U.S. history and recipient of an infamous presidential pardon. This meticulous account sets the record straight on a reluctant public figure who lost in the court of public opinion, but escaped being tried in a court of law." –Publishers Weekly

"Is Rich a rogue or a philanthropic businessman? Ammann lets readers draw their own conclusion. 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." –Library Journal

About the Author

DANIEL AMMANN is business editor of the highly regarded Swiss weekly “Die Weltwoche”. He was educated at Zurich University, UC Berkeley and Fondation Postuniversitaire Internationale in Paris. In 2007 he won the Georg von Holtzbrinck Prize for Business Journalism.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Primary Sources and Well-written Oct. 12 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are at all fascinated by oil, this is one book that you will probably read within a few days. This is not only due to its relatively short length, but because its full of great stories from March Rich himself, his family and veterans in the commodity business. Some of the stories/anecdotes about deals with Middle Eastern/African countries are flat out unbelievable. One of my favorite short bits was when during the Angolan civil war, Cuban communist militia were dispatched to support the ruling Marxist party in defending the operations of Gulf Oil - and they were defending Gulf from American sponsored rebels. In an unexpected way, the book reveals the world as it is, rather than how we imagine it to be in our heads. The only downside for me was excessive focus on Marc's tax issues. I know its a huge part of Marc's life, but for me it was more interesting to reading about his business strategies and specific deals.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on an even better topic July 25 2012
This book is amazing. Anyone who has ever worked, or aspired to work in energy or trading must read this book. The back ground of how the oil market developed is outstanding. 5 stars
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars Aug. 5 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into world of Marc Rich Nov. 25 2009
By Kindle Addict - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As much as any book can, The King of Oil reveals an incredible amount of information into the world of Marc Rich. Because Marc Rich is so secretive it is hard to compare this book to any other written pieces about him.....but this book is fascinating because it touches upon the geopolitics, the emergence of the spot market for oil, commodity trading, presidential politics, business etc.

The downside of this book is that it doesn't reveal "how" Marc Rich won crucial contracts, established relationships and competed with other commodity traders. Perhaps it's too hard to reconstruct the deal-making conversations, but it would be interesting to hear the inside stories of those critical turning points in his career.

The book is an easy read and well worth it for anyone who is interested in the intersection of geopolitics and business.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Closer to the truth about Marc Rich Oct. 30 2009
By L. Bonner - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read "Metal Men" by Copetas when it was published in the 1980's. At the time it was a supposed expose about Marc Rich and his expoitative behavior and treachery, and was the only book written about him. There was never an interview with Rich in the book, and when I re-read it after the Clinton pardon in 2001 it still left me with a feeling that alot was missing.
This new book by Ammann is a satisfying, eye-opening piece of balanced journalism that sheds enough light on Rich's life and works to allow the reader to make his own judgment on the man and the circumstances.
A well-written read for anyone interested in the life and motivations of an international businessman and, by default, political figure.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The author's access Makes this book worth it Dec 13 2009
By Andrew Tollemache - Published on
This is good book and I would daresay, an important one. For a man of his importance and prominence, Marc Rich has not been the focus of too many books. The total access that the author got to write this book makes it a very worthy read. For decades the only side of this story I knew was the prosecution's case. Ammann's interviews with Rich allow us to hear the other side, to hear counter arguments and perspective from the man himself. Does he give a totally balanced and detailed explanation of Rich's activities? No. Does it matter? Not really, since someone else will probably have to write that book. This subject area is ripe for further research and I welcome Ammann's effort here.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars author is a sockpuppet for marc rich May 31 2010
By Erica Ford - Published on
While it might be true the author would be free to write whatever he wanted, the book reads like the deal between the author and marc was a wink wink nod nod in that the book would be favorable to marc rich and try to redeem himself with the public.

the book lacks the details on how Marc did his deals. This book is for entertainment purposes only and it is not very useful at all.
29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Exercise in Sycophancy June 28 2010
By pyeguy - Published on
Ammann's book on Marc Rich is essentially a wildly sycophantic PR effort, which attempts to compensate for what Ammann asserts as Rich's "PR advisers [having] not kept up with the times" (p. 139).

Straying more than a bit from pure `business journalism', Ammann at one point oddly fetes Rich with: "At seventy-four, Rich still exhibits the handsome features that made him such a good-looking man in his younger years. Once can see a strong resemblance to Rudolph Valentino [!!!!], the tragic star of the silent film era, in Rich's earlier photographs" (p.144).

The book contains countless factual errors regarding governments, regions and leaders of the world that traded with Rich. This work doesn't reveal the "hows" of Rich's methods so much as the "whys", all the while drawing an unnecessary mystique around Rich, his colleagues and enablers, and the state of commodity-backed global fiscal corruption in general.

Ammann maliciously labels Iran - which Marc Rich utilized under two regimes to build his oil trading wealth on - as an "anti-Semitic regime" that's hell-bent on destroying Israel, despite A) continued dealings between Iran and both Marc Rich & Co. then, as well as its current Swiss manifestation, Glencore, now; and B) tens of thousands of Jews living there for millennia without the kinds of pogroms or genocide insinuated by this agenda-ridden author.

As other reviewers also pointed out, Ammann treacherously floats that anti-Semitism drove the US prosecutor's legal campaign against Marc Rich. The author nonchalantly does so by having Rich confirm that such is the case, only to then include a brief, terse response from Sandy Weinberg in firm rebuttal as the end of it. This is gutter journalism at its worst.

Ammann lacks the legal background to lend credible analysis to the legal case against Rich, but doesn't let that stop him from trying to perceptually vindicate Rich nonetheless. He does so with essentially delayed caveats from some Ivy League tax law professors and Rich's own counsel, while in large part painting Rich as a wronged hard working immigrant who fled the Holocaust with nothing. The US prosecution team is painted as inept, even oafish amateurs with a clear axe to grind against a hardworking, focused, discreet, rich Jewish émigré.

Applying appalling reasoning, Ammann offers that "[i]f we are to follow the time-honored American tradition of `innocent until proven guilty', then Rich must be considered innocent." This, just after conceding that Rich's "case never had the opportunity to go to trial, as Rich never returned to the United States."


It's the equivalent of claiming that, technically film director Roman Polanski - another fugitive who fled US law - must also be considered innocent because, technically, he was never formally convicted.

Ammann further blatantly contradicts himself in reviewing the US legal case against Rich. In one instance, he claims: "It is the purpose of this book not to prove Rich's guilt or innocence but to pose questions and to point out the mistakes made throughout the entire affair by all sides" (p. 134). A mere seven pages later, however, Ammann proclaims: "Yet I am not convinced that Rich would actually have been found guilty in court. There is simply too much reasonable doubt surrounding his guilt. I have come to this decision after my conversations with members of the judiciary, diplomats, and other individuals directly involved in the case and after having viewed countless documents, some of which were confidential" [confidential to whom, exactly?!?]. Again, Ammann is not an attorney, but a Swiss-born and based journalist.

Additionally, Ammann fails to point out a core contradiction in Rich's statements versus Rich's behavior. At one point, Rich justified his dealings with Iran, Cuba and other red-flagged states with: "Business has nothing to do with politics" and "I'm not a political person. We were not a political company" and still "[b]usiness is neutral. You can't run a trading company based on sympathies." All of that said, Rich nonetheless contributed generously to the Israeli state and her intelligence imperatives as a key, deep-pocketed "sayan", and was gratuitously acknowledged/rewarded for doing so by leading Israeli politicians and military leaders.

These same leaders lobbied Bill Clinton personally and directly to pardon Rich - an illustrated process that remains the most telling content of the book.

Also, and despite his apparently matchless level of access, Ammann did not provide enough detail on Rich's companies' operations, nor on the global energy and commodity sector mechanisms that allowed for Rich to operate so fluidly. The book could've dwelled less on the cult-of-personality surrounding its subject, his colleagues and allies, and more on the vital issues involving the core commodity listed in the book's hubristic title.

Ultimately, Ammann did not write this book for the wider public, for aspiring business people, for Rich's progeny, or certainly for anyone curious about Rich's legal case. He wrote it as an act of genuflection towards the elite, who he certainly had unique access to and utilized in order to `re-brand' Marc Rich whilst nodding and winking at the wider, opaque global realm of commodity and currency trading he claims Rich invented in large part.
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