At his death in 1955 Calouste Gulbenkian was one of the richest men in the world, known as "Mr Five Percent" on account of his personal holding of 5% of Middle East oil production. His fortune and art collection are now held by the Gulbenkian Foundation, one of the world's wealthiest philanthropies. The companies he helped to create - Royal Dutch-Shell and Total - count among today's oil "supermajors," and the international oil agreements he brokered continue to shape the economic and political fortunes of Iraq, Venezuela and other oil-producing countries across the globe. Gulbenkian's media-shy persona and preference for back-room deals lent him an aura of mystery which continues to this day. Though acknowledged as one of the heroes of the international story of oil by historians such as Daniel Yergin (author of "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power"), Gulbenkian's story has yet to be told.
Given unprecedented and exclusive access to over 600 meters of Gulbenkian's private correspondence, Jonathan Conlin pieces together the story of this remarkable Armenian deal-maker and business architect for the first time. Conlin shows how Gulbenkian built a fortune as the spider at the centre of an international web of oil, diplomacy and high finance. Gulbenkian's success as "honest broker" between rival oil companies and between oil companies and heads of oil-producing states was founded on a life of constant movement and shape-shifting. Holder of four passports and diplomat to two Empires (Ottoman and Persian), nobody quite know where Gulbenkian's true loyalties lay.
"Black gold" may have brought him fabulous wealth, but Gulbenkian recognized the truth of an old Persian proverb: "Oil burns the hands." Alongside "Mr Five Percent" we also encounter the jealous husband, domineering father and doting grandfather. We count the costs of Gulbenkian's ceaseless activity on those whose interests he sought to serve and protect, as well as on the Foundation he hoped would provide a lasting legacy.
Jonathan Conlin was born in New York and later moved to Britain, where he studied history at Oxford. He went on to do graduate work at the Courtauld Institute and Cambridge, becoming a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College in 2002. During this period he spent long periods in Parisian archives, developing an interest in the history of Anglo-French relations. Since his appointment to the University of Southampton in 2006 he has taught courses on a unusually wide range of topics, from the moral philosophy of Adam Smith through the history of cemeteries to the impact of evolution on Victorian society...
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