Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World’s Richest Man
By Jonathan Conlin
2019, Profile Books, 978-1-78816-042-1, $31 hb.
Reviewed by Robert W. Lebling on September 15, 2019
When Armenian Turkish businessman Calouste Gulbenkian died in 1955, Life magazine described him as the world’s richest man. His secretive global business machinations were the stuff of legends and he was a key figure in the development of oil in the Middle East. Today, the average person barely recognizes his name. Daniel Yergin, in his celebrated oil history The Prize, placed Gulbenkian on a par with figures like Rockefeller and Getty as “one of the great buccaneer-creators of oil.” This biography, marking the 150th anniversary of Gulbenkian’s birth, paints a rich portrait of a shadowy global figure who was an architect of international oil as we know it. Gulbenkian’s dream for the development of the world’s oil industry was based on cost-saving vertical integration and international cartels that bypassed governments. His business deals introduced US petroleum companies to the Middle East and brought Royal Dutch Shell to America and beyond.