I know that I'm late to the party, since this book was published in 1991, but you can't read everything at once. The Prize chronicles the history of the oil industry from the first Pennsylvania oil rush in 1860 and the rise and dismantling of Standard Oil to the 1973 oil crisis and the first Gulf War. It deserves all the praise it has received over the years. Yergin strikes an excellent balance between historical facts, technical jargon and anecdotes. The history of oil is full of colourful characters such as John D. Rockefeller, Calouste Gulbenkian and J. Paul Getty and their stories liven up what could have been a dry book.
I found it fascinating to read about the many transformations the oil industry has undergone since its humble beginnings in the mid 19th century. The oil industry actually began producing kerosene for lamps and only later progressed to gasoline. At first, whenever an oil well was found at a certain location, drilling rigs would spring up almost overnight as people scrambled to acquire a piece of the pie. It took several decades before drilling was regulated. It may also be hard to believe now but the discovery of a major oil field in Texas in 1930 sent prices down to less than 20 cents a barrel almost destroying the entire oil industry. It wasn't until the U.S. government intervened that prices were restored and the oil business returned to profitability.
The Prize is essential reading if you want to understand the history of the 20th and 21st century. I for one was unaware of the role oil and oil supply lines played in the Second World War, both in the build-up to the war and in actual warfare. The book is as topical today as it was when it was first published and Daniel Yergin could continue adding epilogues with every new edition. Earlier this week, in a move with many historical precedents, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez unveiled plans to nationalize Argentinian oil company YPF, which is partially owned by Spanish oil company Repsol.
So, if you haven't read it yet, put it on top of your reading list. At almost 800 pages it may seem like a daunting book, but don't let its length put you off: it is a real page turner. It is better than most novels and every story actually happened.
Daniel Yergin has a new book out, The Quest. Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World, which I intend to read as soon as the paperback is published.
The Inglewood oil field in Los Angeles
Feeling peaky. The economic impact of high oil prices. The Economist, 21 April 2012.