Out of the Desert: My Journey from Nomadic Bedouin to the Heart of Global Oil
By Ali Al-Naimi
2016, Penguin Random House, 978-0-24127-925-0, $42.95 hb.
Reviewed by William Tracy on May 1, 2017
“If I, a poverty-stricken Bedouin kid born in a desert, can make it, anyone can,” writes Ali Al-Naimi, who spent his early years tending goats in eastern Saudi Arabia, rose rapidly through the ranks at the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) and became minister of petroleum and mineral resources. “Hard work” and “luck” were critical to his success, he says. The fact that American prospectors discovered oil on the east coast of Saudi Arabia in 1938, three years after he was born, falls on the “luck” side. Hard work meant joining Aramco at age 12, getting an education under company auspices and then proving himself as a geologist and a manager. Al-Naimi became Aramco’s first Saudi president and then CEO of its successor, Saudi Aramco. He planned to retire in 1995 at age 60, but he got a promotion from King Fahd, and then served as a minister for the next two decades. Al-Naimi guided the growth of an oil company into a global energy business with subsidiary partnerships in refining and marketing, a tanker fleet, chemical plants and alternative-energy research. He negotiated with other key producing countries and expanded Saudi Aramco’s overseas marketing in the Far East. Written with candid modesty and self-deprecating humor, his book is a captivating read.