A Dangerous Game

‘Thirteen decades of conflict and tension, crisis and war, corruption and violence, of manoeuvring in the highest circles and in the quagmires and minefields of the world.’ Since its founding in 1892, Shell has become one of the four largest oil and gas producers in the world. It’s success comes from acting as an independent and active political player, which tries to influence and bend the rules, if not to bypass them. To understand Shell’s refined methods, investigative journalist Marcel Metze spent decades piecing together the first comprehensive political biography of the company of its kind, in a style rich in detail and anecdotes.

Marcel Metze
Original title
Hoog spel

Shell plays a high stakes game — high risk and high rewards — and over the years has developed an arsenal of sophisticated tools to win: from cultivating their own politicians, to supporting local military interventions, to setting up their own intelligence agency with ex-spies and -marines. The huge problems they create — like environmental pollution — are jobs for its legal and PR departments. The former to avoid liability, the latter to maintain a positive image, which is at least as important as extracting fossil fuels. The promising commercials and slogans about sustainability? Unfortunately, little more than lip service.

These tactics are the product of Shell’s history. Building on extensive archival research and interviews with dozens of insiders, Metze charts the company’s growth from its original fusion as a Dutch-British company in colonial Indonesia, through both World Wars, decolonisation, the OPEC crisis, into a multinational operating in seventy countries by 2022. The world looks very different today and yet three quarters of all oil deposits remain in unstable or autocratic countries. Metze places great emphasis on the who, what and how in Shell’s political game of influence around the world, with a focus on the UK, the USA and Europe.

Aside from revealing to the general public how a multinational like Shell operates, A Dangerous Game holds up a mirror to the society that has allowed, if not condoned, such a gross imbalance between ethics and business. Shell’s story serves as a troubling warning against a worldview based purely on the management of risks and the maximization of profits. A book for the readers of Steve Coll’s Private Empire, Daniel Yergin’s The Prize and Anthony Sampson’s The Seven Sisters.

‘This is a highly valuable reference work.’

de Volkskrant

‘With this well-written history, which paints a detailed yet nuanced picture, Metze shows just how much Shell, as a political actor, is a heavyweight accustomed to getting its way.’

Marcel Metze
Marcel Metze (b. 1952) is one of the Netherlands’ most renowned investigative journalists. He made his name as the author of revealing books about Philips Electronics, the big Dutch banks, political parties and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Metze is a member of the international journalistic consortium ICIJ and founder of De Onderzoeksredactie (now Platform Investico) and The Investigative Desk. A Dangerous Game has been shortlisted for the Libris History Prize.
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