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Oil on the Brain: Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2008
I read this book as part of a review group associated with the petroleum industry. I have over twenty years of experience in the refining industry, so most of the information this book contains in that regard held little new information. However, it's important to point out that the book also didn't contain any misinformation. My experience with production and trading is limited, so I picked up a great deal of information on those aspects. If you are not familiar with the oil and gas industries, and would like to know the "how and why" of them, I would recommend this book highly. The author not only discusses domestic (US) production and supply, but also foreign areas, such as Nigeria. In short, I think this book represents the broadest, and easiest, source of information a lay person would find useful as a starting point for exploring an industry that affects all our lives.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2009
If you think the Strategic Petroleum Reserve sounds deadly dull, read this book and be surprised. Along with the chapters on Venezuela, Chad and Nigeria, this material will give you a more connected understanding of how oil influences global politics and economics.

This is my favorite type of book: a painless and fun way to learn important stuff. It's comprehensively researched and usefully annotated, and the perspective is balanced.

There is no particular failing that causes me to give 4 stars rather than 5. I would only give 5 stars to one of my dozen or so favorite books of all time. This book is merely excellent.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2008
Especially relevant in these days of high gasoline prices, this book is everything you ever wanted to know about gasoline. It starts at the gas station and traces back to distributor, refinery, oil rigs, etc. all the way back to the countries that supply our crude oil. The book was first published in 2007 - before prices soared. It provides a thoughtful discussion of the mechanics and politics of gasoline. It is a
"must-read" for everyone who complains about the high cost of gasoline
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2008
Lisa Margonelli's book Oil on the Brain is an interesting narrative about oil, starting at the pump and progressing 'upstream' towards the oilfields that produce crude oil. The first few chapters on gas station franchising, the distribution business, and refining are illustrative. The author spent some time on a rigsite in east Texas where a gas well was being drilled. Also very good. Interesting material on the NYMEX exchange and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), although the editorializing starts in Chapter 5.

Alas, the chapters on foreign countries - Venezuela, Nigeria, Chad, Iran - are less informative. Not nearly as much factual data and intellectual rigor as in the first few chapters. More quotes from biased and limited sources, much more opinion. As a result, the book became a struggle to finish, with all the opinion. Interesting for an author who claims to know little about oil and gas at the outset, to pen such broad and sweeping conclusions and statements in the later chapters. The last chapter deals with Chinese attempts to build smaller more fuel-efficient cars. This is ironic, as the Chinese National Petroleum Company is making acquisitions of marginal oil and gas properties all over the world - desperate to gain access to oil. The author doesn't mention deepwater oil and gas production in Nigeria (almost 1/3 of the country's production comes from 4 deep water developments) or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

As an alternative to this book, I recommend John Ghazvinian's Book 'Untapped-The Struggle for Africa's Oil' which features chapters on several countries in Africa that have gained prominence in recent years for their oil potential. More data, more reporting, less bias, less barely-concealed contempt for the oil and gas business. Ms. Margonelli seems not to understand that companies take on the characteristics of the countries where they operate, not the other way around. This is particularly evident in her description of Venezuelan expatriate 'racially and class-stratified' compounds near Lake Maracaibo, where Exxon's subsidiary gave instruction on how to deal with local domestic staff. One would think that providing advice is preferable to the alternative - not giving advice. After working in Nigeria, I can assure you that expatriate staff are EXPECTED to contribute to the local economy by hiring chefs, drivers, stewards and maids. Furthermore, the status-conscious nature of the country is reflected in the detailed perks that accrue to various job grades such as make/model of company car. The majority shareholder in the Shell-operated onshore developments in Nigeria is ... the Nigerian National Petroleum Company NNPC (Shell 30%, Total 10%, AGIP 5%, NNPC 55%).

I can only assume that Ms. Margonelli's attitude towards oil and gas came through in her unsuccessful requests to speak with industry representatives (at least Ghazvinian got into Shell's office to talk to their CEO of African operations), leading her to rely overly on detractors. So to summarize, the first half of the book was interesting and informative. I got the sense I was learning with the author. The second half of the book was less satisfying, the author was looking to confirm preconceived opinions by interviewing a skewed sampling of opinion, and introduced too much personal opinion.

Disclosure - I am a production geologist with a major oil company who has worked overseas in Holland, Oman and Nigeria.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2008
The title is very inspirational. Americans rely on the stuff oil is used for more than anyone else. But we don't spend much time thinking about it. Oil on the Brain tries to change that with a comprehensive exploration of what oil is and where it comes from. The geopolitics of how we "negotiate" getting it and paying for it are greatly revealed. Geopolitics are only briefly explored(war and between-war posturing)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2008
OIL ON THE BRAIN is a survey of virtually every facet of the oil market and industry, from gas station to national policies. The author spends time at each segment, collecting information, interviewing the players, and experiencing whats happening.

The book is well written, interesting, and provides a detailed overview of our friend gasoline.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2009
This was deffinently a great book to read. actually read it for a college class, but it was really good. It's a personal travel of oil from the ground to your tank.
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on November 21, 2012
This book is awesome. It is like having very important things explained to you by your witty girlfriend in a bar. We all just pop into the local gas station, fill er up, and drive away. How does that gas actually get to your tank? The writer tells you how, without boring you or making you feel stupid that you've never heard of the Ghawar Oilfield in Saudi Arabia or fracking in North Dakota (which sounds dirty, but it's not). Read this book.
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on August 26, 2013
Written like a story book, rather than a factual reflection of what, where and how oil affects us. It begins where the end product is sold and works it way back in a way that makes you want to read the book for its delightful descriptive explanation of the impact of oil on our daily lives.
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Only halfway done reading and I'm sold on this book already! Just gathering in one place all the info you need to know and never knew makes 'Oil On The Brain' a great must read! Glad I finally took a chance and bought it. Ms. Margonelli should do a follow-up, indeed! Highly recommended!
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