Books: Ruddy Old Gent

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Hendrik August Wilhelm Deterding, third son of a Dutch sailor, went into an Amsterdam bank at the age of 16 and fell in love with figures, quit after six years because banking was too slow a way up in the world. He went to the East Indies, worked for the Netherlands Trading Society in Deli, Medan and Penang, learned how to make money for the Society, and quit to make money for himself. His next job was with a man named J. B. A. Kessler, who was head of a small concern with a large name, which was: The Royal Dutch Co. for the Working of Petroleum Wells in the Dutch East Indies.

By the time Kessler died, in 1900, Royal Dutch was a respectable little company, with wells all over the Dutch East Indies and markets throughout the East. And Deterding, who succeeded Kessler as managing director, was dreaming of fighting Rockefeller. By 1903, backed by the Rothschilds, he set out to buck Standard Oil. Deterding lost more than $4,000,000, but fought Standard to a standstill (in spite of the free lamps Standard gave away) and won a market in China. From then until the War he was busy grabbing up new properties in Mexico, Venezuela and California.

Author Roberts gives Deterding plenty of credit for winning the Allies' war. Sir Henri's part in the post-War oil scramble was less heroic. The U. S. S. R. nationalized the Baku oilfields and Sir Henri never got over it. He began to fulminate against the Bolsheviks in the press and. Author Roberts implies, to plot against them in secret. But the Bolsheviks were too smart for him. Author Roberts thinks his backing of Hitler and his admiration for Mussolini are based on his hatred of Communism, which was born of frustration when he lost the oil of the Caucasus. And his second wife was a White Russian, his third a German.

Main fault of The Most Powerful Man in the World is that Author Roberts cannot make Sir Henri sinister enough. Instead of lurking behind the scenes, the chunky, ruddy, grey-haired old gentleman too often plumps right into the middle of things, sometimes with a letter to the London Times that reads like the outburst of one of P. G. Wodehouse's apoplectic baronets.