This is a well written and well researched book by Mathew Simmons, an expert on the oil business including Middle East oil supplies. The book is a bit technical and is mostly solid information on oil extraction, the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, along with a number of projections. The best comparison that I can make is with a university reference book, but not a text book: it is a well written reference book with a very short introduction of Saudi history.
The book is a little over 400 pages in medium font, and has many maps showing the locations of the oil, schematics showing how the crude oil is actually processed, photographs, and a number of tables. There are about a dozen large oil fields in Saudi Arabia. These fields are discussed, and comparisons are made with other large active oil fields around the world, including the North Sea oil fields started in the early 1970s. The core idea of the book is that we are about to face the reality of limited oil production in Saudi Arabia and in the rest of the Middle East: the situation is not good and projected inventories and extraction rates are too optimistic. The era of growing sources seems to be over, regardless of the political situation in the Middle East. The sources cannot keep up with the demand for oil that is expected to continue to grow.
The book is divided into four sections and then has a very short appendix. The first section is just 69 pages and details the political and historical development of Saudi Arabia as a country, and the introduction of foreign oil companies.
Section two is short, just 50 pages, and covers the subject of how the oil is extracted from the ground, and what has to be done to separate the crude from water, methane, and various other contaminants to get "pure oil". This includes photographs and a number of process schematics. It goes step by step through from the discovery of a field to how the oil is actually extracted and processed, and this can differ for different stages in the life of an oil field.
Section three is the heart of the book. It is a long inventory and description of about a dozen Saudi oil fields with maps and comments. This is one of the biggest sections and takes up 110 pages. He goes through the inventory field by field explaining the size, location, problems, yields, lifetimes, etc. This is a relatively complete description of the Saudi oil situation and oil around the Middle East, in more general terms for the latter and a bit less detailed.
The last section is about 100 pages and he describes the life cycles of various oil fields to show how the oil extraction rate varies with time. Each field goes through a life cycle, sometimes lasting decades, but each has a finite cycle length and each follows a similar production trajectory, i.e.; a slow rise in output at first to a maximum rate, then a peaking, then a drop off. The author has a lot of detailed information on many oil fields from around the world, along with their production histories. Most fields around the globe are on the down slope.
Finally, he has a brief appendix with additional comments to show that the problem with the Saudi fields is an old problem, and he quotes past Congressional testimony and similar, going back from 1974 that back up his present case. The problem is not new. Saudi production is limited and the inventory figures are overly optimistic, and they have a history of being overly optimistic: production is just half of old projections, and raising production levels is not feasible.
The general thrust of the arguments is that the fields are running at near capacity, will peak soon, and then drop off. They will not last centuries or similar. The date is a bit hazy, but with exponential growth in demand it will be sooner rather than later, probably the first decade of the present century, or maybe even this year or in the next few years. At that point we will not be able to meet oil demands, especially for the emerging nations of China and elsewhere.
In summary, once the hype and opinion clears away, and the basic facts are considered, the oil situation is not good. Many economists, most politicians, and the general public have still failed to grasp that an oil based economy cannot be sustained indefinitely because of finite supplies - not taking into account whether carbon dioxide will destroy the atmosphere. Like lung cancer and smoking, there has been a long period of denial and a lack of any real effort to conserve oil or find an alternative. In any case, this book drives the point home - in spades - and with much technical detail. We are about to peak in Saudi oil production, and there are no alternatives. The tap will not be 100% turned off, but supply will peak, decrease, and not the meet demand; our economies and the use of the gasoline, jet fuel, natural gas, or diesel fuel will have to change sooner, not later. Few think that coal is a good solution, and the much promoted two step "clean-coal" has yet to be demonstrated, i.e.: step one works - the high temperature burring of coal, but step two, an effective method of sequestering the carbon dioxide is not proven. The latter is my comment.
This is a well researched and well written book that outlines serious future oil shortages. 5 stars.