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The Prize recounts the panoramic history of oil -- and the struggle for wealth and power that has always surrounded oil. This struggle has shaken the world economy, dictated the outcome of wars, and transformed the destiny of men and nations. The Prize is as much a history of the twentieth century as of the oil industry itself. The canvas of history is enormous -- from the The Prize recounts the panoramic history of oil -- and the struggle for wealth and power that has always surrounded oil. This struggle has shaken the world economy, dictated the outcome of wars, and transformed the destiny of men and nations. The Prize is as much a history of the twentieth century as of the oil industry itself. The canvas of history is enormous -- from the drilling of the first well in Pennsylvania through two great world wars to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm.


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The Prize recounts the panoramic history of oil -- and the struggle for wealth and power that has always surrounded oil. This struggle has shaken the world economy, dictated the outcome of wars, and transformed the destiny of men and nations. The Prize is as much a history of the twentieth century as of the oil industry itself. The canvas of history is enormous -- from the The Prize recounts the panoramic history of oil -- and the struggle for wealth and power that has always surrounded oil. This struggle has shaken the world economy, dictated the outcome of wars, and transformed the destiny of men and nations. The Prize is as much a history of the twentieth century as of the oil industry itself. The canvas of history is enormous -- from the drilling of the first well in Pennsylvania through two great world wars to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm.

30 review for The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I bought Daniel Yergin’s The Prize during one of my semi-regular fits of intellectual hunger, which often strike after I’ve read five straight books about Nazi henchman and zero books about anything relevant to today’s world. After the purchase, I put it on the shelf. And there it sat, for a long, long time. It is, after all, a tremendously big tome about oil; it does not scream out to be consumed or embraced or loved. For a long time it just sat there, on my shelf, laughing at me. Finally, one I bought Daniel Yergin’s The Prize during one of my semi-regular fits of intellectual hunger, which often strike after I’ve read five straight books about Nazi henchman and zero books about anything relevant to today’s world. After the purchase, I put it on the shelf. And there it sat, for a long, long time. It is, after all, a tremendously big tome about oil; it does not scream out to be consumed or embraced or loved. For a long time it just sat there, on my shelf, laughing at me. Finally, one day, I picked it up, and started to read it. Then I quit. Because it was about oil. Sometime later, I came across a certain politically-oriented meme on my brother’s Facebook page. This meme consisted of a picture of a gas pump with a Post-It note stuck next to the digital price-per-gallon screen. The content of the note, summarized, is that gas prices now are higher than when Obama was inaugurated. The message strongly implied that if only we’d get smart and elect a Republican we could all get oil-drunk and drive huge and unnecessary pickup trucks and bathe in oil and pour oil in our cereal and light oil on fire just to laugh at the flames and all for $2 a gallon. I assume I’m not the only one vexed by the question of constantly fluctuating oil prices. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to give a half-informed (if that) opinion about the cause. That’s when it struck me: I have this question about oil; I also have this massive, 800-page oil-opus written by one of the world’s leading energy authorities. Thus had I reached that crucial moment when a sudden, fleeting interest intersected with exactly the right book to satisfy that interest. Unfortunately, Daniel Yergin’s paper doorstop does not answer that fundamental question about oil prices. (That answer has something to do with oil being a global commodity. And also there are Oil Elves). Instead, The Prize positions itself as the history of the world from 1853 to 1991, told from the point of view of black gold, Texas tea, etc. The slowest going comes at the beginning, during Part I, when Yergin details – at extensive length – the “founders” of the great oil companies (many of which exist today). This material is not inherently dramatic, but Yergin’s handling of it ensures that the narrative presents itself as more of a checklist of events than anything else. He jumps quickly from one place to the next, one person to the next, so that it all becomes something of a blur (a chronology in the back does help). Moreover, The Prize has a sort of subject-myopia. It is so intent on touching on the highlights – Rockefeller forms Standard Oil; a gusher at Spindletop – that it never gets into all the other elements that make oil’s story worth telling (or, for that matter, give it context). Yergin never really explains how oil is discovered or recovered; how it evolved from a lighting source to a propulsion source; or the actual mechanics of how an oil company operates. To be sure, some of these topics are mentioned, but none are explored in a truly satisfactory way. For instance, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) dominate the later sections of the book. Yergin is sure to tell you every time OPEC did something that shook up world oil markets. However, he never gets into any true discussion of OPEC’s workings. That is, how and why OPEC was able to accomplish what they accomplished (and still accomplish). In other words, The Prize is about tell, not show. There were many times I sought a deeper, fuller understanding of this subject; instead, there was often only a recitation of facts. The story does pick up pace further on. This uptick coincides with oil’s breakthrough as a fuel source for machinery. Yergin devotes four chapters to World War II, the epochal event that ushered in this sea-change. Especially effective is his look at the Pacific Theater, where the first great blunder was Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s failure to destroy the oil fields near Pearl Harbor. Yergin’s insights into Japan’s desperate oil shortages has really deepened my understanding of the conflict. These shortages are mentioned – in passing – in every history of World War II. Fleeting references, however, fail to do the situation justice. Japan literally began the war with a timetable based on fuel stocks. When that timetable did not proceed apace, Japan’s ultimate defeat was a mathematical certainty. It forced Japan into numerous desperate measures that appeared fanatical, but which were dictated by oil logic. (Chief among these measures were the kamikaze attacks. These suicide missions were exceedingly effective in terms of resource conservation, since planes only needed enough fuel for a one-way trip. Furthermore, fuel did not have to be expended to train these pilots, since all they needed to know was enough to get them off the ground and headed in the right direction). The post-World War II years was the time when oil took its mantle as the leading natural resource. In Yergin’s phrase, it was the “age of the hydrocarbon man.” It is at this point, when a growing desire for oil butted up against a newly rearranged Middle East, that The Prize really hits its stride. The chapters on the Middle East cover all the flashpoints: the Suez Canal Crisis; the Yom Kippur War; the Iran-Iraq War; the fall of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution; and finally, Gulf War I, touched off by Saddam Hussein’s seizure of tiny, oil-rich Kuwait. Not only are these international crises more interesting reading than earlier tales of wildcatting in Pennsylvania, but Yergin does a better job finding the human drama to accompany the inanimate central character. Interspersed between dry talk of concessions and OPEC and price controls, you get to meet fascinating people such as Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlevi, the Shah of Iran, T. Boone Pickens, the “wacky” billionaire, and J. Paul Getty, at one time the richest man in America: As a young man, Getty was already launched on a life of wild romance and sexual adventure, with a special predilection for teenage girls. He married five times. But marriage vows were, for him, not even an inconvenience; to engage in some of his more clandestine affairs, he simply operated under a favored and not all that discreet alias, “Mr. Paul.” He liked to travel to Europe because it was less noticed that he was in “transit flagrante” with two or three women at a time. Yet the only true love of his life may have been a French woman, the wife of a Russian consul general in Asia Minor, with whom he had a passionate affair in Constantinople in 1913. He bade what he hoped was a temporary farewell to her on the dock at Istanbul, but then lost contact with her forever in the turmoil of war and revolution that followed. Even sixty years later, whereas he would discuss his five marriages almost technically, as if they were lawsuits, a mere mention of this lady, Madame Marguerite Tallasou, was enough to bring tears to his eyes. It’s strange to think, but there are kids alive today, old enough to carry on conversations, who have never lived in a world in which America was not at war in the Middle East. We’re there, ostensibly, to fight terrorists. But if you follow the trail back into the past, you find we’re there for an entirely different reason. Among other things, terrorism is a response to the West’s continued (often heavy-handed) presence in the Middle East. That presence has included rampantly exploiting natural resources and propping up certain leaders – often to the detriment of their people – in order to create advantageous geopolitical stability. That stability is necessary to the uninterrupted flow of a very precious commodity. In the end, the cliché that “it’s all about oil” is true. The Prize, despite what I found to be shortcomings, does a masterful job of explaining just how that happened. In that way, it succeeds in doing what all history books aspire to do: to show the direct link between the past and the present. Even though The Prize ends in 1991 (with a short update chapter), it clearly proves its thesis that oil – and all the struggles surrounding its discovery, acquisition, and distribution – created our modern world. For better and for worse.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Long, but soooooo good. Lots of people write books like How Soccer Explains the World, which you read and think, "That was cute, but soccer doesn't ACTUALLY explain the world." The thing is, to hear Yergin tell it, oil actually DOES explain the world, at least for the last 150 years, and I believe him. Extremely well researched and written, but also surprisingly lively and imbued with humor as well. Kudoes to Yergin for doing so well with a topic that's potentially so dry. (It won the 1992 Pulitz Long, but soooooo good. Lots of people write books like How Soccer Explains the World, which you read and think, "That was cute, but soccer doesn't ACTUALLY explain the world." The thing is, to hear Yergin tell it, oil actually DOES explain the world, at least for the last 150 years, and I believe him. Extremely well researched and written, but also surprisingly lively and imbued with humor as well. Kudoes to Yergin for doing so well with a topic that's potentially so dry. (It won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize, btw) If you can carve out the time over a month or so to make your way all the way through the 800 pages, it's well worth it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Naeem

    Be warned that Yergin is an apologist for Oil companies and doesn't have a critical word to say about capitalism in this 800 page plus book. Nevertheless, I consider this a must read (I read it twice). First, Yergin writes like a journalist -- so the reading goes quickly and well. More important, this is a comprehensive and thorough history of the commodity oil. When you review the history of the 20th century from the lens of oil, many things change and everything deepens. The chapters on WWII ar Be warned that Yergin is an apologist for Oil companies and doesn't have a critical word to say about capitalism in this 800 page plus book. Nevertheless, I consider this a must read (I read it twice). First, Yergin writes like a journalist -- so the reading goes quickly and well. More important, this is a comprehensive and thorough history of the commodity oil. When you review the history of the 20th century from the lens of oil, many things change and everything deepens. The chapters on WWII are spectacular. Yergin shows that much of the strategy of all sides was getting access to oil fields. In addition this is the book that got me to take global warming seriously. Not that this was Yergin's intent. Finally, there some good theoretical material here as well. The particularities of the commodity are grounded on the fact that right from the start of oil's history, the problem for capitalists is that there is too much oil! Yergin thus confirms over and over what Timothy Mitchell argues in his article "McJihad" -- that a glut of oil necessitates the creation of cartels that can reduce the quantity of oil on the world market. Only reduced quantities can sustain profits. (See A Century Of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order by F. William Engdahl, who argues that this is way the creation of OPEC was okayed by oil corporations and the US government.) This can be a mind blowing read if you can filter out Yergin's glorification of oil capitalists -- as individuals and as a collectivity. Ironically, Yergin does not argue for free markets because this would mean an oil glut, low oil prices, and limited profits for oil companies. What this teaches us is that corporations and their spokespersons are too smart to promote free market ideology in their plans and actions but smart enough to spout that as their rhetoric. Corporate socialism (that is what a cartel is, no?) for the super rich and free markets for the rest of us.) In this sense, Yergin is the honest voice of oil corporations. He argues for the all the good oil companies create even if that means that they have to violate free market ideology.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alec

    Aaaand time. Take that, Prize. After a mere 2 full months, about 8 flights, and at least 2 pounds of lean muscle mass added from lifting this tome, I have finally taken down The Prize. Mr. Yergin, you are the definition of a worthy adversary, akin to the man in the black pajamas or the value menu at Jack in the Box. The Prize is a book that, upon completion, made me feel completely ridiculous for ever having an opinion on anything (literally, anything) without this base collection of knowledge. W Aaaand time. Take that, Prize. After a mere 2 full months, about 8 flights, and at least 2 pounds of lean muscle mass added from lifting this tome, I have finally taken down The Prize. Mr. Yergin, you are the definition of a worthy adversary, akin to the man in the black pajamas or the value menu at Jack in the Box. The Prize is a book that, upon completion, made me feel completely ridiculous for ever having an opinion on anything (literally, anything) without this base collection of knowledge. We live in the Age of Oil and, as such, this history of oil becomes the history of the world as we know it. From the World Wars to the oil crisis to the constant flux of oil prices, Yergin dives into the truth behind this complex and critical phenomena in a way that is completely engaging and rife with amusing detail. There is far too much information to summarize in a review, so I won't even attempt, but I will say that the first half of the book was the most entertaining. The explosion of oil exploration with the law-less, wildcatting passion of the fortune-seeking oil men was incredible to read about and contrast with the nationalized, highly bureaucratic oil industry today. Then to see this era capped by the World Wars and oil's scale-tipping effects was riveting in a patriotic way. At one point, I definitely started chanting "USA! USA!" under my breath in a Seattle restaurant. Happy Hour is dangerous. The critical relationship between access to oil and national security (not to mention preservation of way of life) is a theme throughout The Prize. As I read on, I had an interesting thought. Back when the Iraq War (the most recent one) was at its controversial apex, I remember people screaming things along the lines of "this war is only about oil!" and things of that nature. I don't have any interest in getting into the question of whether or not that war was justified, but let's just say for a second that those people were right, and that war was about oil. Is that an inherently bad or immoral reason for a war? Oil is the key to our way of life. Revolutions and wars tend to happen when one group's way of life is threatened or restricted (in reality or simply perception) by another. I don't know the answer, but the thought was interesting. It is a daunting task, without question, but I assure you this book is worth the time. If anyone does decide to pick it up, I recommend grabbing a copy with the updated epilogue, where Daniel Yergin discusses everything that's happened in the last 20 years. It's not as detailed as the rest of the book, but his insight is still appreciated. Good luck to you all. If you need me, I'll be at Jack in the Box...perhaps a more formidable adversary after all.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I’ve been thinking of reading Mr. Yergin’s work since it was first published, though its length proved a mighty and consistent deterrent for nearly three decades. It is a long tug, that’s for sure. Mr. Yergin does a superb job with this history of the petroleum industry. I leave this work mindful of the randomness, the chaos in our world. Folks who were at the right place at the right time are today lionized, their names now adorn the entrances to buildings at coveted universities and are affixe I’ve been thinking of reading Mr. Yergin’s work since it was first published, though its length proved a mighty and consistent deterrent for nearly three decades. It is a long tug, that’s for sure. Mr. Yergin does a superb job with this history of the petroleum industry. I leave this work mindful of the randomness, the chaos in our world. Folks who were at the right place at the right time are today lionized, their names now adorn the entrances to buildings at coveted universities and are affixed to prestigious endowments and trusts; those at the wrong place at the right time, the right place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the wrong time are …. Writing with the benefit of hindsight, there seems a logical flow, an orderliness to things, a reflection of Mr. Yergin’s craftsmanship. This is not how the future will present itself, I believe; rather, what lies ahead is very much uncertain. One last note, as someone who knows little about petroleum science, I assumed the chemical origins of petroleum were now settled, proven; this appears not to be the case. Mr. Yergin writes in the endnotes, “By generally accepted theory, crude oil is the residue of organic waste – primarily microscopic plankton floating in seas, and also land plants – that accumulated at the bottom of oceans, lakes, and coastal areas.” “Generally accepted theory?” This reminded me of a meeting in my college days with Prof. Thomas Gold, interestingly a winner of the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal. It wasn’t that Prof. Gold happened to win the Gold Medal that I found memorable, though. No, Prof. Gold hypothesized that oil and natural gas owed their origins to abiogenic processes rather than the “generally accepted theory” that Mr. Yergin references. What became of Prof. Gold’s hypothesis?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Really great history of the middle east and oil exports. It's so easy to forget how shocking the embargos and the price rises were in the US and how political the issue of oil became here. It's still the case that oil prices are indicators, but they've come under control. I wonder if the cost has been worth it. Sanctions on Iran, buddying up with the Saudis, endless war? Seems like American and Middle Eastern politics would be a lot less heated if we could all find a different way to run our mac Really great history of the middle east and oil exports. It's so easy to forget how shocking the embargos and the price rises were in the US and how political the issue of oil became here. It's still the case that oil prices are indicators, but they've come under control. I wonder if the cost has been worth it. Sanctions on Iran, buddying up with the Saudis, endless war? Seems like American and Middle Eastern politics would be a lot less heated if we could all find a different way to run our machines.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Asif

    An excellent and entertaining book on 150 years history of Oil and its impact on history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Boudewijn

    The title is a little misleading, as this is not a book about an epic quest for oil itself, but rather a description of the oil price and what caused the fluctuations. It also gives some insight in the way how the relation between the imperial powers and the oil producing nations changed during time. From having no say about their oil to actually owning the oil revenues and penetrating the Western markets higher and higher up the supply chain. Although the book is outdated (it ends with the firs The title is a little misleading, as this is not a book about an epic quest for oil itself, but rather a description of the oil price and what caused the fluctuations. It also gives some insight in the way how the relation between the imperial powers and the oil producing nations changed during time. From having no say about their oil to actually owning the oil revenues and penetrating the Western markets higher and higher up the supply chain. Although the book is outdated (it ends with the first Gulf War) I gained some valuable insights.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick Black

    750 pages of pretty dense prose, originating in Pennsylvania, spanning the globe (you'll come out knowing more than you did going in about venezuela, bahrain, and azerbaijan) and ending on the shiite plains of iraq's central euphrates region in 1991 (an epilogue addresses the period ending in the second gulf war, but is cursory at best). characters of all ethnicity and nomenclature enter, live for a few pages, and then exit, sometimes referred to again fifty pages later. switches from backroom i 750 pages of pretty dense prose, originating in Pennsylvania, spanning the globe (you'll come out knowing more than you did going in about venezuela, bahrain, and azerbaijan) and ending on the shiite plains of iraq's central euphrates region in 1991 (an epilogue addresses the period ending in the second gulf war, but is cursory at best). characters of all ethnicity and nomenclature enter, live for a few pages, and then exit, sometimes referred to again fifty pages later. switches from backroom industry intrigue to global strategic strategy to wildcat drillers from chapter to chapter. most striking was the lesson yergin drills home: oil is a strategic asset, unlike most commodities, and thus governments can't ignore it. the american military is the strongest in the world, but it runs on oil. military operations require tremendous drawdowns of stocks, and the ability to move them. power projection, barring nuclear weapons, is limited by where one can deliver oil, and the bandwidth of that delivery. without oil, your nuclear-powered carriers can get somewhere, but your planes can't fly. your trucks can't move materials, your tanks can't roll, and your men are stuck walking. my conclusion: our operations in the middle east were most certainly about oil, but not about oil company profits as so often accused. if we don't invade iraq, and it keeps kuwait, and prices skyrocket as a result, oil companies pass those costs on and do just fine. it's the military that eats it. keeping oil prices at historic lows for a decade may well have offset the cost of the first gulf war (i have done no analysis), especially if a major military adventure had cropped up. also interesting was the desire of governments, even net importers like the united states, to keep oil prices above some minimum. what is that minimum? the cost of producing economically effective domestic oil. otherwise, one's domestic exploration and production infrastructure goes to seed as more cheaply-produced foreign oil swamps the market. you need that domestic production to buffer yourself against sudden foreign supply problems, even if it means oil is more expensive on average. towards the end, he got into how the futures markets allow further buffering and hedging, at least via displacement in time, but the treatment was at a very high level and didn't satisfy me. small details, easy to miss, are deadpanned and hilarious. did you know saddam's maternal uncle and father-in-law (what) wrote a pamphlet entitled Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies? i didn't, and my life is better for knowing it now. worth reading, but damn it was long.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    I read this book and the impression it left with me when I read in the 1990s that oil was a crucial but highly problematic resource. I learned that our modern world was deeply dependent on this resource and money and power flow from the control of it. Global Warming was not as prominent an issue but future depletion and geopolitical tensions generated by Oil were obvious even then. This book covers the history of this resource which today still is the main driver of today's geopolitics. Imagine I read this book and the impression it left with me when I read in the 1990s that oil was a crucial but highly problematic resource. I learned that our modern world was deeply dependent on this resource and money and power flow from the control of it. Global Warming was not as prominent an issue but future depletion and geopolitical tensions generated by Oil were obvious even then. This book covers the history of this resource which today still is the main driver of today's geopolitics. Imagine this book be written in the wake of Two wars in Iraq, Russia and Venezuela, and Mexico, Nigeria. In addition, the danger of burning hydrocarbons that threatens our survivability on this planet due to greenhouse emissions. I imagine a revision of this book in regards to our present circumstance would be dynamite if we knew the dirty deals of the present.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Arun Divakar

    The measure of success of any democratically elected government in India for a common citizen does not hinge on developmental plans, economic indicators or the advances in diplomacy. It dwells almost singly on the price of a single commodity : oil, the fluctuations of which can wreak havoc on the fiscal management of an average Indian household. Time and again, history has proved that many a voter comes to a conclusion on who to vote for by taking a look at their stance on the price of oil. As a The measure of success of any democratically elected government in India for a common citizen does not hinge on developmental plans, economic indicators or the advances in diplomacy. It dwells almost singly on the price of a single commodity : oil, the fluctuations of which can wreak havoc on the fiscal management of an average Indian household. Time and again, history has proved that many a voter comes to a conclusion on who to vote for by taking a look at their stance on the price of oil. As an interesting aside, consider this - the title of a book by Neil MacGregor was ‘The history of the world in 100 objects’ but this can very well be reapplied to Daniel Yergin’s book as ‘The history of the world in 1 object – Oil’. Starting from the 1800’s and ending post Operation Desert Storm, this book is a sweeping epic about the one single commodity which can literally bring the world to a standstill if choked off. The initial stages in the life of oil were neither interesting nor earth shattering. From a rather tiny whimper in the American wilderness, oil soon gained momentum and roared into the minds of the public with the advent of motorized transportation. In these first stages, oil did not acquire the position of global significance but the balance slowly started shifting in its favour following WWI. The best parts of this book are the chapters on WWII and how much the war was really about control over oil. Behind the larger than life figures and the frenzied battles, whoever had control over fuel for the vehicles was the one who won the war. The most hard hitting parts of the narrative are the struggles Japan had to go through as their fuel supplies ran out and George Patton’s unforgiving minute during the final offensive on Germany. The only description for the chapter on WWII would be to call it splendid. The slow evolution of oil into a global power centre was also the time of the decline and the fall of the British Empire. Into the vacuum stepped in the Americans and the USSR and here was also when the first prospects of oil came into being in the middle east. The world order has since then undergone a lot of breaking and remoulding with oil remaining the one bargaining chip, incentive and choke hold all rolled into one which the middle east has wielded time and again. If we go by Yergin’s narrative then we also see oil’s evolution in roughly the below format : •Do we really need it ? – Stage 1 •Look at all the money Rockefeller is making – Stage 2 •He cannot have all this money alone, bring him down and let us on the bandwagon too – Stage 3 •WAR ! – Stage 4 •WAR ? again ? Oh and while we are at it, goodbye British Empire – Stage 4 •Hello Saudi and Kuwait and Iran and Iraq and Libya and Algeria and Nigeria and…. – Stage 5 •Arab Nations : What is Israel doing here and are you helping them ? huh ? / America : Ummmm…well – Stage 6 •Ohhhh look at all the price rises in Oil ! ( We are rich : Oil producers and exporters / We are screwed : Western Governments) – Stage 7 •Let’s form an old boys club : Petroleum Exporting Nations – Stage 8 •The Shah or the Ayatollah ? – Stage 9 & •Let’s catch Saddam Hussein – Stage 10 While the book has excellent content in terms of understanding the history of oil, the tone is unmistakably capitalistic. Barring a few notes here and there, Yergin does not criticize the oil majors ( read Exxon, Chevron, Texaco, Mobil, BP and Shell). The view point is mostly from the lofty heights of the corporate board rooms or the hallowed halls of policy making. Yergin also adopts a storytelling which has a very readable and journalistic touch wherein the focus is more on the individuals surrounding the oil than the other way around. Another interesting thing is that the entire history of oil is a history of men. Barring Ida Tarbell and Margaret Thatcher, there is not even a single woman in the entire 1000 page narrative. Alternate and more viable fuels might come up in the future but until then : [..]..ours is a civilization that has been transformed by the modern and mesmerizing alchemy of petroleum. This is what has made it the age of oil. Highly recommended but be warned that this book will be a huge investment of your time and effort and it is also unabashedly capitalistic ! Note : I must say that it failed to answer my most important question : Why do oil prices still keep rising even when the price of crude oil goes down ?

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Neither of the novels I’m currently reading is really going anywhere, so I started reading a history of the oil industry instead. As I’d expected, it was totally riveting. I find the role of oil in economic, political, and environmental development fascinating, so clearly was predisposed to like it. The book sustained my interest, even when recounting the technicalities of oil company mergers, through the use of a high quality journalistic approach. Each chapter began with a character vignette o Neither of the novels I’m currently reading is really going anywhere, so I started reading a history of the oil industry instead. As I’d expected, it was totally riveting. I find the role of oil in economic, political, and environmental development fascinating, so clearly was predisposed to like it. The book sustained my interest, even when recounting the technicalities of oil company mergers, through the use of a high quality journalistic approach. Each chapter began with a character vignette of some key figure, before explaining the bigger strategic picture. Whenever this wider picture started to pall, a new personality was introduced and their important role explained with the help of amusing anecdotes. Such a structure worked beautifully to convey a complicated and lengthy history entertainingly, without sacrificing density and rigour. The whole book was compelling, but I would single out for particular praise the chapters on the two World Wars and how the role of oil differed in each. Oil utterly transformed the nature of war and its availability did much to determine who won and who lost. I hadn’t previously realised, for instance, that Japan’s defeat in the Second World War was precipitated by total oil deprivation. Nor that in the Pearl Harbour attack the fuel stores of the US fleet were not destroyed - which would have placed America in a much more fragile position in the Pacific. Oil came to be equated with mobility in society generally, but the shift was more striking and sudden in conditions of war. The First World War was largely static and began at least with the expectation that movement of troops would be by horse or train. By contrast, the Second World War involved near-constant and massive movements of troops, materiel, and battle lines, all powered by oil. The genesis and fractious history of OPEC was also very well-told and informative. I’d wanted to know more about the extent to which OPEC has, at various times, been able to set world oil prices. Yergin demonstrates that its power has waxed and waned, whilst the structure of the world oil industry has altered considerably in the second half of the twentieth century. In fact, the only quibble I really have with this book is that the edition I read was published in 1993 and there have been massive oil-related changes since then. For a start, prices. When this was published, the record peak price for a barrel of crude was around $40; in 2008 it exceeded $100. According to Bloomberg, today a barrel of Brent crude would cost you $113. I’d love to read Yergin’s analysis of the twenty-first century price increases, so will try and get hold of his later book The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. That should also include more detail on the environmental aspects of oil dependence, which this book only touches on briefly. Really, you have to be impressed with a densely printed 800 page non-fiction book that not only holds your attention but leaves you wanting more.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    As a history and energy enthusiast I simply adored this mammoth of a book (warning: this book is both huge and has small print. If this intimidates you stear clear because each page is chock full of fascinating and detailed knowledge and stories). What I particulalry liked about it was the level of detail Yergin went into explaining the dyanmics of the oil market thorughout its existence, the major players that moved those markets, and the reasons behind why they made the decisions they did. It As a history and energy enthusiast I simply adored this mammoth of a book (warning: this book is both huge and has small print. If this intimidates you stear clear because each page is chock full of fascinating and detailed knowledge and stories). What I particulalry liked about it was the level of detail Yergin went into explaining the dyanmics of the oil market thorughout its existence, the major players that moved those markets, and the reasons behind why they made the decisions they did. It was truly illuminating how just a few key decisions (such as how property rights for oil reserves were determined) altered the course of not just the oil industry, but the entire world. The story of oil is the story of the 20th centruty, for better or for worse, and this book does a stupendous job bringing this story to life and making it accessible to the general public. You will get a new perspective on historic events and a better understanding of how we got in the situation we are currently in regarding the oil majors, OPEC, and geopolitical calculations that go into foriegn policy. So, long story short, if you love history and knowing why things turned out the way they did, this book is for you.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    The idea of reading nearly 800 pages about oil might sound daunting and perhaps even boring but this is a history of the world over the past 150 years. All the major events up to our present time have centered around oil. It's such a part of life and so taken for granted that this fact is easy to forget. If we didn't have oil we would have nothing of modernity for good or bad. Yergin focuses on the bigger picture of the history of civilization and how it all ties together around oil. Forget his The idea of reading nearly 800 pages about oil might sound daunting and perhaps even boring but this is a history of the world over the past 150 years. All the major events up to our present time have centered around oil. It's such a part of life and so taken for granted that this fact is easy to forget. If we didn't have oil we would have nothing of modernity for good or bad. Yergin focuses on the bigger picture of the history of civilization and how it all ties together around oil. Forget his economics and politics which are obviously supportive of the oil industry - this is an extremely accomplished history book and provides an overview that everyone should understand.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Knocked the bastard off. The Prize is a tour de force on the history of oil from the 1850s in Pennsylvania through until the Gulf War in 1991. A Pulitzer winner for non-fiction, the book is undoubtedly well researched and written. However, as with many books on this list, The Prize is defined by its length and density. The upside is that the book is split into five sections which can actually be read in isolation (e.g. if you just wanted to understand the role of oil in WWII). This website has g Knocked the bastard off. The Prize is a tour de force on the history of oil from the 1850s in Pennsylvania through until the Gulf War in 1991. A Pulitzer winner for non-fiction, the book is undoubtedly well researched and written. However, as with many books on this list, The Prize is defined by its length and density. The upside is that the book is split into five sections which can actually be read in isolation (e.g. if you just wanted to understand the role of oil in WWII). This website has great synopses of each chapter, which effectively lays the whole book out: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~twod/o... Oil provides an interesting lens through which to view history since the Industrial Revolution. It tracks the growth of capitalism with tycoons like John D Rockefeller, the strategic importance of energy resources throughout the two world wars, and the Cold War driven geopolitics of the US in the Middle East post WWII. The economics of oil also make it a fascinating commodity. Oil prices are closely tied to inflation and are consistently extremely volatile (prices have more than halved in the past two months of writing this review). One downside of the book is the only brief mention of environmentalism. Oil production and use has been a significant contributor to climate change. Despite being released in 1991, environmental impacts deserve more coverage, especially given the length of the book. The Prize ultimately achieves what it sets out to do - give a comprehensive modern history of oil. I would not recommend this book for everyone, but if the topic interests you this is a solid start. 4 stars.

  16. 5 out of 5

    James Giammona

    One of the top ten books I've ever read! (right up there with Making of the Atomic Bomb by Rhodes). It gives a sweeping history of the oil industry, great biographical vignettes of hundreds of the main figures and the business and nation competitions that ensued. Oil is a high-risk, high-reward activity with intrigue, daring, luck, and violence. One of the most lasting takeaways for me was the context it gives to infrastructure and brands (like all the major gasoline companies I'm familiar with) One of the top ten books I've ever read! (right up there with Making of the Atomic Bomb by Rhodes). It gives a sweeping history of the oil industry, great biographical vignettes of hundreds of the main figures and the business and nation competitions that ensued. Oil is a high-risk, high-reward activity with intrigue, daring, luck, and violence. One of the most lasting takeaways for me was the context it gives to infrastructure and brands (like all the major gasoline companies I'm familiar with) that I had always had just treated as unchanging bureaucratic behemoths. Now, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Exxon, Chevron, Arco and other names have gripping stories and personalities associated with them. On a larger scale, the economic and geopolitical pressures of WWII, the Suez crisis, the two Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Iran-Iraq war, and the first Gulf war were all well explained and embedded in a detailed context. As with the Empire of Cotton which was a biography of a global commodity, this too is a biography of a singularly important commodity. And, my favorite way of learning history is through biography. On the whole, this book gave me a new framework to understand the workings of the whole world. Pretty good for one book!

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Quinn

    I enjoyed this book a great deal but I think I respect it even more. Yergin presents an exhaustive historical, economic and political epic about oil and the people, companies and countries that had significant roles in its development and policies. The writing is clear and approachable and occasionally funny. (I read the kindle version and highlighted many long passages. All of those highlights are publicly available.) (The stinginess of J. Paul Getty was particularly interesting and funny.) The I enjoyed this book a great deal but I think I respect it even more. Yergin presents an exhaustive historical, economic and political epic about oil and the people, companies and countries that had significant roles in its development and policies. The writing is clear and approachable and occasionally funny. (I read the kindle version and highlighted many long passages. All of those highlights are publicly available.) (The stinginess of J. Paul Getty was particularly interesting and funny.) The book is mainly focused on the commodity itself and does not get into technical details about refining, discovering or extracting oil. The main characters you'd expect to see are there (except the Koch brothers who are completely absent, very little is said about refining) and lots of characters you've probably never heard of make important appearances as well. The Prize is composed of five main sections. I read a different book between each section as it was a little too much for me to handle at once; that strategy worked well for me. The book is about the economic and political intertwining of oil in the modern world, if you don't think that's worth reading about then this is a book to avoid. If it's a subject you'd like to explore then this should be on your must-read list.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ankur

    This is the Biography of Oil. This book should be in the reading list of every one who is interested in Politics or Business or History. You will get detailed insights regarding the following points :- - How oil was discovered ? Who were the men behind the discovery of Oil ? - How were all major oil fields discovered ? - How did all the top Oil Companies come into existence = Standard Oil, Exxon, Mobil, Aramco, Shell, Royal Dutch, etc. ? - Who was Mr 5% ? - How and Why Oil defined the course of World This is the Biography of Oil. This book should be in the reading list of every one who is interested in Politics or Business or History. You will get detailed insights regarding the following points :- - How oil was discovered ? Who were the men behind the discovery of Oil ? - How were all major oil fields discovered ? - How did all the top Oil Companies come into existence = Standard Oil, Exxon, Mobil, Aramco, Shell, Royal Dutch, etc. ? - Who was Mr 5% ? - How and Why Oil defined the course of World War 1, World War 2 ? - How is Germany's Concentration Camp related to Synthetic Oil production ? - What is Teapot Dome Scandal ? - Who was the brain behind the creation of Oil Tankers ? - History of OPEC ? - The Suez Crisis right after India's Independence - Oil Embargo on 1970s - Iran Iraq War of 1980s - Iraq Kuwait War - How was Saudi Arabia formed ? - Formation of "International Energy Agency" - How did Taxi Cabs save Paris from Germany's advance in World War 1 ? - How did the Red Line Agreement come into existence ?

  19. 5 out of 5

    Corban Ford

    A history of Oil, right from its greasy beginnings. Yergin slides through the years and explains how Oil truly oozed its way in to more than a few international conflicts and around more than a few slimy characters. It'll make you think twice before you fill up your car next time. Actually, no. No it won't. That just felt like the thing to say. I regret nothing. Also for what it's worth the book was made into a documentary that feels like it was made in the 1980's. Yes, I watched it alongside readi A history of Oil, right from its greasy beginnings. Yergin slides through the years and explains how Oil truly oozed its way in to more than a few international conflicts and around more than a few slimy characters. It'll make you think twice before you fill up your car next time. Actually, no. No it won't. That just felt like the thing to say. I regret nothing. Also for what it's worth the book was made into a documentary that feels like it was made in the 1980's. Yes, I watched it alongside reading the book. No I don't have issues. Yergin did a very solid job on this one. Good informative read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bruno Gremez

    This book is a very insightful research work about the history of oil since its very beginning in places like the US and Azerbaijan in the middle of the 19th century until 1990 (the year when the book was written) when the Middle East takes central stage - again - with Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait and a US-led coalition ousting Iraqi troops out of the Emirate. Throughout many events of the 20th century, Daniel Yergin shows the strategic importance of oil in the world economy and in geopolitics This book is a very insightful research work about the history of oil since its very beginning in places like the US and Azerbaijan in the middle of the 19th century until 1990 (the year when the book was written) when the Middle East takes central stage - again - with Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait and a US-led coalition ousting Iraqi troops out of the Emirate. Throughout many events of the 20th century, Daniel Yergin shows the strategic importance of oil in the world economy and in geopolitics. It started in the 19th century when whale oil, by definition a finite resource, was getting more expensive and petroleum became the new cheap fuel for illumination, and later for the production of electricity and as a fuel for the nascent automobile industry. Fortunes were soon made by fellows like Rockefeller who became the first American billionaire. In the beginning of the 20th century, Rockefeller had cornered the oil industry and controlled 90% of the US market. His dominant position ended with the US Supreme Court ordering in 1911 the dismantlement of his company Standard Oil. It was split into many smaller entities, some of which having survived and thrived to this day, like ExxonMobil, Chevron, etc. Oil had in the meantime already become so strategically important that many countries realised its decisive importance to win any war. During WWII, it became soon apparent to the allies that oil was actually the Achilles heel of Germany. Germany had no oil of its own, contrary to the Soviet Union and the US. Nazi Germany tried everything to gain access to oil. It first managed to control the oil production of Romania. In 1941, Germany attacked the former Soviet Union, but German troops failed to reach the Caucasus in today Azerbaijan, where the Soviet oil production was concentrated. With the defeat in Stalingrad, Germany will have to abandon its ambition to gain access to Russian oil, and will eventually lose the entire war. Confronted to this lack of oil, Nazi Germany had also developed the production of synthetic oil, the result of a process that consisted of transforming coal into oil. During WWII, a significant part of the German airforce was flying on synthetic oil. This led the allies to bomb in priority the synthetic fuel factories, even before the landing of Normandy in 1944, as they perfectly knew that oil was the major weakness of Nazi Germany. The lack of natural resources, especially oil, is one of the major reasons why Germany lost the war. The decisive role that oil has played during WWII helps explain why, over the second half of the 20th century until this day, major world powers will consistently try to either control oil production, or secure in some way the support of those countries where oil is produced. Throughout major events of the 20th century, Daniel Yergin shows the strategic role that oil has been playing in geopolitics and the world economy. Oil, money and geopolitics have by now become completely intertwined. Review by Bruno Gremez

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Oil is the thread connecting 130 years of global history through such characters as John D. Rockefeller, Harry Sinclair, Winston Churchill, King Faisal, Warren G. Harding, T.E. Lawrence and many more. Our oil addiction stemmed from the discovery of oil "seep fields" (think of teh Beverly Hillbillilies "bubblin' crude") in Western Pa. The original oil boom sought to exploit kerosene as an improvement over whale oil burning in lamps. Oil fever waxed and waned until the commercialization of interna Oil is the thread connecting 130 years of global history through such characters as John D. Rockefeller, Harry Sinclair, Winston Churchill, King Faisal, Warren G. Harding, T.E. Lawrence and many more. Our oil addiction stemmed from the discovery of oil "seep fields" (think of teh Beverly Hillbillilies "bubblin' crude") in Western Pa. The original oil boom sought to exploit kerosene as an improvement over whale oil burning in lamps. Oil fever waxed and waned until the commercialization of internal combustion, which transformed the US in a mere decade and is still transforming the world. The story of oil is the story of huge historical themes and events: the rise and fall and rise of monopolies in the U.S.; the Bolshevik revolution; and the colonization of "protectorates" in Mesopotamia to create states like Iraq. Oil was the lynchpin resource of both World Wars. In WWII the Allies destroyed Rumanian oilfields in a race against time against marching Germans and Turks. In a lesser-known variation on the Miracle of Dunkirk, the French discovered the utility of internal combustion when the military drafted thousands of Parisian cab drivers to transport troops to the front against marching Germans. Without this improvised troop movements (and yes the cabbies were encouraged to run their meters), the Germans could have easily taken the capital and possibly ended the war with a different result. Suddenly cavalry was "out." Tanks (a code name that stuck) were invented to break the gridlock imposed by trench warfare. Internal combustion also fueled dogfights in the sky. In months airplanes went from unreliable toys to 150 mph fighting machines, which were made obsolete by a new generation of war planes in only another six months. In WWII we outproduced the Axis as much as defeated them. Yergin set out to depict a fascinating historical sweep through an oil-filled prism. He is partially successful. He vividly recreates characters like Rockefeller, Teddy Roosevelt, and Marcus Samuel, the founder of Shell Oil who got his start selling curios and souvenirs covered in glued-on sea shells and also became Mayor of London. But the journey feels more episodic than sweeping as this very looonnnggg book is splintered into two- and three-page chapters, almost each commandeered by a new Superhero/Master of the Business or Political Universe. He also over-focuses on the business dealings of Big Oil, sometimes to the point of tedium but often to the exclusion of the social side of the story, such as: What was really happening in Mesopotamia while the region was being pawned between England and France? Oddly Yergin's chapter on the rise of the drive-through gas station is more compelling than his re-creation of this "Great Game" between superpowers. Still there is much fascinating between these pages and I will soldier on through completion--I'm up to about 1928, or page 224.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robert Morris

    This book is fantastic. I am a bit of a history buff and have read a fair amount of it, but this book added a whole new dimension to my understanding of the past century. Petrochemicals, and the benefits and security issues that they bring have been central to the way the modern world has formed. This may seem to be an obvious statement, but it is not a story that people focus on much. Yergin has filled this gap. Vital reading. One thing that I found particularly illuminating is the perpetual bo This book is fantastic. I am a bit of a history buff and have read a fair amount of it, but this book added a whole new dimension to my understanding of the past century. Petrochemicals, and the benefits and security issues that they bring have been central to the way the modern world has formed. This may seem to be an obvious statement, but it is not a story that people focus on much. Yergin has filled this gap. Vital reading. One thing that I found particularly illuminating is the perpetual boom-bust cycle that the book lays out. People have been worrying about "Peak Oil" since the 1870s. Whenever we have been convinced that we were about to run out, some new technological innovation, or discovery is made, and we tip over into massive surplus. This cycle is useful, because the fear of running out teaches us to use the resources more carefully, and makes us innovate. It is striking, however, how almost everybody goes with the crowd. Periods of incredible price inflation are frequently followed by periods where Oil and water cost similar amounts. After Yergin's description here, and in his less impressive but still informative follow-up book, I am fairly confident this cycle will continue. Today's drought will be followed by a glut, and then another drought.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shashwat Sharma

    Okay, so this is not your conventional easy read, but one that's extremely invigorating if you're interested in history. For The Prize underlines the entire history of the past one and a half centuries revolving around the one ultimate Prize - oil. There would hardly be another single book whose pages discuss people from Rockefeller to Kennedy, Roosevelt to George Bush, Stalin to Hitler to Saddam Hussein. Oh, and there's even a line about Moses and Noah's Ark! The sheer scale of the oil industry Okay, so this is not your conventional easy read, but one that's extremely invigorating if you're interested in history. For The Prize underlines the entire history of the past one and a half centuries revolving around the one ultimate Prize - oil. There would hardly be another single book whose pages discuss people from Rockefeller to Kennedy, Roosevelt to George Bush, Stalin to Hitler to Saddam Hussein. Oh, and there's even a line about Moses and Noah's Ark! The sheer scale of the oil industry, the pioneer role it has played to bring about industrial revolution, automobile boom etc. is beyond description, but somehow the author has managed the task with craft. Its simultaneously awe-inspiring and informative about how entire economies have been shaped and destroyed by the struggle to conquer vast quantities of black gold. Mr. Yergin has written a classic, a must read for economists, engineers, policy makers and general public alike.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul Greenpage

    Superb robin. The history of oil from 1870s to now traces the political-economic history of the 20th Century. Was tracking to 5 stars until about the 1970s, when it got bogged down in the Middle East and wasn't as interesting. WW1 and WW2 a highlight.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Donahue

    I would give this six stars if I could. I hate exaggerating but I don't think I am when I say this book has changed the way I think about the past, the present, and the future. It's impossible to retain even all the broad points made in this book, and I fail to comprehend how someone could possess all of that knowledge at the same time. Many of the sub-stories fall into the "I can't believe that actually happened" category. It is not just a story of the oil industry. It is the story of one of the I would give this six stars if I could. I hate exaggerating but I don't think I am when I say this book has changed the way I think about the past, the present, and the future. It's impossible to retain even all the broad points made in this book, and I fail to comprehend how someone could possess all of that knowledge at the same time. Many of the sub-stories fall into the "I can't believe that actually happened" category. It is not just a story of the oil industry. It is the story of one of the most valued commodities in human history and the significant role (understatement?) it has played in the rise and fall of nations and the conflicts between them. Its role in World War II--its impact on both strategy and tactics, as well as the outcome itself--leaves you endlessly contemplating one of the all-time greatest "What If?" hypotheticals: What if the Axis had an equal access to oil as did the US? In the postwar world, the sheer coincidence of the Middle East sitting atop the largest sources of crude in the world has forged today's geopolitical relationships, conflicts, and crises. Crude oil has gone from simply an upgrade over whale oil as a light source to something so heavily depended upon by modern society that oil companies are considered evil if they attempt to maximize its economic value. Oil has turned numerous luxuries into necessities we feel we have a right to. If oil suddenly disappeared, I cannot even conceive how our society would reconstruct itself. Yergin calls us Hydrocarbon Man. It has some dry moments (inevitable in 780 pages), but make sure you get a recent edition that doesn't suddenly stop in the middle of the Gulf War. You will find yourself drawn to news articles about oil and other forms of energy, and you might laugh inwardly when driving by a Shell or Texaco station, knowing of the "epic struggle" that produced it. It has overhauled the way I think about our relationship with the Middle East today, and has me thinking a lot in how we will continue to adapt to the scarcity of these commodities in order to energize our country and the world. They say money begets power, but in many cases throughout the past 150 years, oil has begotten money, and in turn, power. I have vehemently recommended this book to at least 25 people since I started it and will continue to do so.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    An 800-page history of oil, the most important commodity in the modern world. Although petroleum was known to the ancients, its modern history began in 1859 in Pennsylvania when it came to be extracted commercially and processed into kerosene for nighttime illumination. When this market started getting saturated, the invention of the internal combustion engine created a new one. John D. Rockefeller monopolized the oil market in the United States, at one point getting the railroads to pay him a An 800-page history of oil, the most important commodity in the modern world. Although petroleum was known to the ancients, its modern history began in 1859 in Pennsylvania when it came to be extracted commercially and processed into kerosene for nighttime illumination. When this market started getting saturated, the invention of the internal combustion engine created a new one. John D. Rockefeller monopolized the oil market in the United States, at one point getting the railroads to pay him a royalty even if they shipped somebody else's oil, not unlike the business practices of a certain software company a century later; this monopoly was broken by the government. Oil was important in the First World War especially as the tank was invented and the airplane rose in importance. It was absolutely crucial in the Second World War. In their invasion of southern Soviet Union, the Germans captured Maikop but failed to capture Baku, and did not have enough gasoline as the Allies bombed Romanian oil fields and German synthetic oil plants. In the Libyan desert, Erwin Rommel's panzers could not advance because the Allies sank all transports carrying oil for him; in liberated France, George Patton's tanks ran out of gas before he could attack the Germans and not give them a chance to regroup. After the war, there were many oil-related smaller wars and crises. Egypt headed by Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, the main conduit of Middle Eastern oil to Europe, and the British and the French joined by the Israelis tried to seize it, but failed. Iraq headed by Saddam Hussein went to war with Iran in order to seize a disputed oil-rich region and possibly annex an oil-rich Arab-majority province of Iran; neither goal was achieved. There are two motifs going on through this history. One is the fear that oil would soon be exhausted. This proved false each time: new fields were discovered in inaccessible parts of the world, and ways to extract more oil from a field were invented, though no one could have known this beforehand. The other is a kind of prisoner's dilemma: it is advantageous for oil producers as a group to form a cartel and restrict production, but it is advantageous for each of them to produce as much as possible; cartels have formed and have fallen apart.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Yergin's classic book The Prize surveys a sweeping history of oil, and its storied relationship to War, Geopolitics, and Imperial ambitions. The strengths of the book are its thoroughly detailed accounts of events such as World War II, The Arab Oil Embargo, and the various European/American meddlings in the Middle East region. No other book takes such a comprehensive view of oil's geopolitical history, and at 800 pages this book actually seems short for such a major topic. On the other hand, ther Yergin's classic book The Prize surveys a sweeping history of oil, and its storied relationship to War, Geopolitics, and Imperial ambitions. The strengths of the book are its thoroughly detailed accounts of events such as World War II, The Arab Oil Embargo, and the various European/American meddlings in the Middle East region. No other book takes such a comprehensive view of oil's geopolitical history, and at 800 pages this book actually seems short for such a major topic. On the other hand, there are some severe limitations to Yergin's analysis. Yergin tells the story of oil from a mainstream/dominant perspective, which means the entire history is in the words of capitalists, heads of states, diplomats, etc.; in a word, the story of oil is told from the perspective of imperialism. There is also very little critical analysis of the horrible atrocities committed by these powers in their "epic quest", so the oil capitalists and U.S. state agencies come out looking like intrepid realists rather than the greedy and ruthless destroyers they are. Yergin praises Jimmy Carter for his "human rights record" and cautious attempts at conservation, but bland liberalism doesnt get deep enough below the surface, and he makes no criticism of the horrors of so-called "alternative fuels" like Coal Liquefaction, Tar Sands, etc. Exxon-Valdez, Three Mile Island and other environmental catastrophes are glossed over, and global warming is barely mentioned, leaving the reader with no real understanding of the environmental or social effects of global oil exploitation. Petroleum as a source of war and conflict is discussed, but not in a way that truly explains the sheer horror of mass-industrial violence unleashed by the energy source. In sum, a useful book for background knowledge of some of the 20th century's grandest geopolitical events, but not useful at all for critically understanding the tragedies of those events, nor how oil has fueled that tragedy.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Max

    This sweeping history of oil takes us from the first strike in Pennsylvania in 1859 to the Gulf War in 1990. Along the way we encounter personalities from John D. Rockefeller to George H. W. Bush, companies from Standard Oil to T. Boone Pickens’ Mesa Petroleum, booms and panics from Titusville Pa and Spindletop Texas to the global energy crises of the 1970’s and 90’s. If at times the detail is a bit overwhelming, it is highly instructive portraying the dynamics of oil’s impact on global economic This sweeping history of oil takes us from the first strike in Pennsylvania in 1859 to the Gulf War in 1990. Along the way we encounter personalities from John D. Rockefeller to George H. W. Bush, companies from Standard Oil to T. Boone Pickens’ Mesa Petroleum, booms and panics from Titusville Pa and Spindletop Texas to the global energy crises of the 1970’s and 90’s. If at times the detail is a bit overwhelming, it is highly instructive portraying the dynamics of oil’s impact on global economics and politics with particular attention to the Middle East and consistently reactive US policy. Oil was a critical factor in both world wars. Running out of oil undermined the German army in 1918. A major reason Japan attacked Pearl Harbor was to secure access to oil in the Dutch East Indies. Trying to seize oil in the Caucasus led Hitler to split his army invading Russia setting up Germany’s momentum changing defeat at Stalingrad. Oil availability helped decide the fate of US presidents. Carter could never overcome the negative impact of the energy crisis of 1979 and conversely Reagan was gifted with a huge economic tailwind from dramatically lower oil prices. Nowhere more than the Middle East did oil determine the destiny of nations and the world. The quest for oil money and power unleashed centuries of hatred between Arab sects, between Arabs and Persians, and of both Arabs and Persians for the West. The resultant conflicts had profound effects on the world political and economic order and in today’s nuclear and highly interdependent age oil financed wars and terrorism have become even more significant. Detailing how we have arrived at this point, The Prize provides excellent background and a useful perspective for current events.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    This book was extremely long but very good. It's fascinating to see how the world of oil grew from tiny "startups" to a massive monopoly within a generation, and then became one of the most politically important industries. Yergin argues that oil drives everything, and I'm largely convinced. Oil is also an amazing case study of political economy. What happens when a cartel tries to raise the price of a commodity? What happens when a government tries to protect local producers, but also help the c This book was extremely long but very good. It's fascinating to see how the world of oil grew from tiny "startups" to a massive monopoly within a generation, and then became one of the most politically important industries. Yergin argues that oil drives everything, and I'm largely convinced. Oil is also an amazing case study of political economy. What happens when a cartel tries to raise the price of a commodity? What happens when a government tries to protect local producers, but also help the consumer? What happens when all this regulation is suddenly stripped away? How do those who are hurt by deregulation respond? The cycle of energy politics and economics shows how governments and corporations interact when the stakes are high. As others note, Yergin writes with a point of view that is decidedly pro-America and pro-capitalist - there are a few events in the book that can easily be interpreted less charitably than he does. Nonetheless, the book is factual and detailed. The only things I wish this book had was more focus on science and on alternative energy sources. Both make appearances in "The Quest," the pseudo-sequel, and I recommend reading that too.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ro

    A excellent tome on the history of oil, from its discovery in the mid-1800s in the US to the 1990 Gulf War. It can be a bit of a slog to read at times, especially in the beginning parts of the book, and especially if you don't already have a certain level of knowledge about world history, geopolitics, and the oil industry, or practice reading lengthy history books. But nonetheless, this is about as colorful and enjoyable a book as there probably can be that tries to lay out the entire history of A excellent tome on the history of oil, from its discovery in the mid-1800s in the US to the 1990 Gulf War. It can be a bit of a slog to read at times, especially in the beginning parts of the book, and especially if you don't already have a certain level of knowledge about world history, geopolitics, and the oil industry, or practice reading lengthy history books. But nonetheless, this is about as colorful and enjoyable a book as there probably can be that tries to lay out the entire history of a commodity. There is a full spectrum of drama and conflicts: corporate feuds, battles within government bureaucracies, nationalist movements, clashing empires. There are vibrant descriptions of the backgrounds and eccentricities of major characters, a sense of tension when tensions are heating up or oil shocks are imminent, and large heapings of dry humor. The book is so enjoyable and educational, that one can easily give it a pass for being basically a cheerleader for oil companies and their executives. A must-read for everybody and anybody!

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