Peter Maass's blog

May 05, 2011  |  permalink

Celebrating the Celebrations

Earlier this year I wrote a lengthy story for The New Yorker about the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003; the story was, among other things, a study of how the media tends to substitute a photogenic minority for a less-photogenic multitude, even if the minority does not represent the multitude. I’ve just written a short online-only piece for The New Yorker about the same topic, focusing this time on the celebrations in America over the killing of Osama bin Laden. The raucous and photogenic gatherings of college students were not, I argue, representative of a more-sober reaction among the majority of Americans, yet they dominated coverage of the country’s reaction. The visuals were fantastic; the journalism, less so.

April 12, 2011  |  permalink

Toppling Dictators in the Youtube Age

The world’s first icons, predating the era of mass reproduction, originated in times when it was at least theoretically possible to smash every painting of a religious figure or tear down every statue of a potentate. That’s no longer possible. As the uprisings in the Middle East show, the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, along with the eternal life the Internet grants to digital imagery, is reshaping the form and impact of political iconography. Hosni Mubarak will not be the last dictator to suffer the consequences. My thoughts on the subject are in a video-studded posting at The text-only version is here.

February 24, 2011  |  permalink

Scenes from Benghazi

CNN’s Ben Wedemen is doing an amazing job in Libya (as he has done in other countries in the Mideast). This piece from Benghazi is just about as memorable as a liberation clip can be. If the link on the video doesn’t work, click here for the video on CNN’s site.

February 08, 2011  |  permalink

Tahrir 1, Firdos 0

January 26, 2011  |  permalink

The New Photojournalism

As most news organizations slash their funding of photojournalism, photographers are turning to the crowd for financing. Take a look at and kickstarter (here’s a link to Larry Towell’s crowd-funded project) and these smart posts by Tomas van Houtryve and David Campbell. Interesting times indeed.

January 03, 2011  |  permalink

The Toppling, My New Story, in the New Yorker

My new story, which reconstructs the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003, is in The New Yorker. It’s a lengthy article that I’ve worked on for quite a while, with support from ProPublica and the Shorenstein Center on the Press. As a companion of sorts to the story, I’ve created a new section of my website that is a collection of photos, videos, documents and links related to the article; just click here to visit it. (Photo by Alexandra Boulat/VII)

November 10, 2010  |  permalink

8 Magazine’s Issue on Oil

If you want to see the best collection of oil photos from around the world that I’ve ever seen, pick up the current issue of 8 Magazine. True, the “Empire” chapter of Crude World is excerpted in the issue, but that’s honestly not why I’m touting it. The pictures, from photographers like Christopher Anderson, Ed Kashi, Rena Effendi, Christian Lutz and Kael Alford, are tremendous. The issue’s cover photo was shot by Lutz and shows the 2009 New Year’s Eve party at the Lagos Yacht Club.

November 01, 2010  |  permalink

Modern Pillage


Do your cellphone or gas tank contain natural resources that were pillaged from conflict-ridden countries? It’s quite possible, and that’s why law professor James G. Stewart has written an innovative blueprint for prosecuting corporations that pillage (the legal term) natural resources from the developing world. To download the blueprint, which was published with the help of the Open Society Justice Intiative, click here.

October 24, 2010  |  permalink

Wikileaks Sheds Light on Brutality of Samarra

In 2005 I wrote a cover story for the NYT Magazine about abuses committed by Iraqi troops working with American forces. These sorts of abuses—Iraqi on Iraqi, as Americans watched—are a major issue in the new batch of Wikileaks documents. I talked with the Guardian in their new video on the issue.
Update: I also talked about it on NPR’s Morning Edition.

October 18, 2010  |  permalink

Crude Truths—the Talk, the Flyer

I’m doing a talk in Austin at the University of Texas on Oct. 28, for which the organizers have created a compelling flyer.

October 11, 2010  |  permalink

What Happens When an Industry Regulates Itself?

You get the financial collapse of 2008 and, as an excellent Wall Street Journal story shows, you get the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Both disasters stemmed from the U.S. government’s willingness to hand over regulation duties to the industries that the government was supposed to be regulating.

October 08, 2010  |  permalink

The Strange Beauty of Spomenik

If you appreciate odd architecture from another era and another place, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are filled with war monuments that always leave an impression. Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers visited the striking Tito-era war monuments that dot the former Yugoslavia and has published his work in a new book, Spomenik. The monument that’s featured in this photo is from Krusevo. More info on the Kempenaers book at A commentary on the photos was recently posted at foto8.

September 21, 2010  |  permalink

‘The Conversation Starts Here’

George Monbiot on the environmental movement’s failure to reduce climate-warming emissions via national or international agreements:

To compensate for our weakness, we indulged a fantasy of benign paternalistic power – acting, though the political mechanisms were inscrutable, in the wider interests of humankind. We allowed ourselves to believe that, with a little prompting and protest, somewhere, in a distant institutional sphere, compromised but decent people would take care of us. They won’t. They weren’t ever going to do so. So what do we do now? I don’t know. These failures have exposed not only familiar political problems, but deep-rooted human weakness. All I know is that we must stop dreaming about an institutional response that will never materialise and start facing a political reality we’ve sought to avoid. The conversation starts here.

August 21, 2010  |  permalink

The Best Books on Oil

The Wall Street Journal runs a weekly column in which an author lists the five best books on a particular subject. The Journal invited me to write the column this week. My five best books on oil are (drum roll…) Ida Tarbell’s The History of the Standard Oil Company, Anthony Sampson’s The Seven Sisters, Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, Abdeldrahman Munif’s Cities of Salt, and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s A Month and a Day. The story is posted on the Journal’s site and on mine.

August 14, 2010  |  permalink

Iconoclasm and the “Ground Zero Mosque”

My latest story, in New York magazine, focuses on the controversy over the so-called ground zero mosque. The piece draws on lessons of iconoclasm in the modern era, from the destruction of the World Trade Center to the demolition of the old Pennsylvania Station and the theft in 1911 of the Mona Lisa (more people lined up to see the empty spot where the stolen masterpiece had hung than visited the museum to see the actual artifact).  As the story says, “In a city with more than its share of famous buildings, one that doesn’t even exist has already become iconic. It is a modern alchemy of symbols in which the act of destruction doubles as an act of creation. The thing is, the opponents of the community center appear to have failed to understand the double-edged consequences of the preemptive iconoclasm they are trying to achieve.”

August 12, 2010  |  permalink

Fresh Air Does Crude World

NPR’s always-excellent literary program, Fresh Air, features an interview with me today. Click here for audio and transcript.

August 05, 2010  |  permalink

The Ministry of Oil Defense

That’s the nifty headline Foreign Policy uses for my latest story about the connection between oil, war and American military spending. A key question the story asks is this one—“To what extent is oil linked to the wars we fight and the more than half-trillion dollars we spend on our military every year?” The quick answer is, it’s strongly linked, and it costs a lot. For more, click here or here.

July 16, 2010  |  permalink

A Big Win For Transparency

A last-second and little-noted victory for transparency—the financial regulation bill approved by Congress includes an amendment requiring extractive companies (oil, gas, gold, coal, etc) that are registered with the SEC to disclose all payments to foreign governments. Great news for the international transparency movement.

July 06, 2010  |  permalink

What’s In A Cover?

Vintage, which is publishing the paperback of Crude World on August 10, has done a wonderful job on the cover design, methinks.

June 22, 2010  |  permalink

The New Publishers

Stepping into the void left by mainstream media reducing their foreign coverage, the VII Photo agency has teamed up with Medecins sans Frontiers to produce a multi-part multi-media series on world hunger. Showcases the work of Antonin Kratochvil, who’s always amazing, and Ron Haviv, among others. Here’s the link to the website; one of the essays is below.

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Crude World by Peter Maass Crude World by Peter Maass

A look at oil’s indelible impact on the countries that produce it and the people who possess it.

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Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass

Dispatches from the war in Bosnia, published in 1996 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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About Peter Maass

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