Oil may well be the subject on which left-wing conspiracy theories are most deeply entrenched and enjoy the widest audience. An oil plot is said to be behind every political development. Many believe that many modern wars are struggles over who will control oil riches. At the more mundane level, when the price of gasoline at the pump fell in October 2006, as it does every autumn after the peak of the summer driving season, some thought this was a plot to help Republicans in the midterm elections.

Noreng provides a comprehensive catalog of every paranoid, ill-informed conspiracy theory about oil. Unfortunately, he believes them all, so he presents them with a straight face, rather than with the guffawing laughter they deserve. He writes that the Iraq war has been a success at its apparent goals, namely, "to raise oil prices for the benefit of the independent upstream oil companies and the oil service firms that make a constituency for President Bush, Jr. and Vice-president Cheney" and "to secure Israel through a weak or fragmented Iraq, preferably under U.S. control."

Still, all of this is embedded in the midst of some rather sober discussion of technical issues, which lend Noreng's book the air of expertise. For instance, the chapter on "the political economy of oil prices" is less about conspiracies and more about how the heavy taxation of oil products means that consuming country governments extract more revenue from oil sales than do the producing country governments, with an additional equally good analysis about how taxation can be used to address concerns about global warming.

But politics is always primary. For instance, the lengthy chapter on "foreign powers and Middle Eastern oil" feeds the misconception that access to a country's oil depends heavily on geopolitical ties with the ruling government, whereas in fact, the world oil market evens out such factors. And, of course, Noreng throws in the European Left's usual anti-Americanism and exaggerated sense of European self-importance with his rather pathetic call for Europe to play a greater role in Middle Eastern politics.