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Oil! (California Fiction) Paperback – April 30, 1997


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Paperback, April 30, 1997
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Product Details

  • Series: California Fiction
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (April 30, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520207270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520207271
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,226,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Sinclair's 1927 novel did for California's oil industry what The Jungle did for Chicago's meat-packing factories. The plot follows the clash between an oil developer and his son. Typical of Sinclair, there are undertones here of socialism and sympathy for the common working stiff. Though the book is not out of print, this is the only paperback currently available.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"He does his little bit of muck-raking. . . but the glorious story of the oil man and his son rushes on. It is a marvelous panorama of Southern California life. It is storytelling with an edge on it." -- The New Republic

"Oil! remains the most ambitious Southern California novel of the 1920s. . . . Chosen by the Literary Guild, Oil! made the best-seller list. Its sales were helped along when Sinclair, hoping to get arrested, personally hawked copies of the book on the streets of Boston, after it was banned there for its outspoken advocacy of birth control." -- Kevin Starr, Endangered Dreams

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Customer Reviews

This is one of the best political books I've ever read.
Chandler Phillips
(Modern readers will be surprised that most of this slang is in common use today).
Jean Huyser
No doubt interesting, but very long and gets irritatingly repetitive.
Logan May

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

136 of 150 people found the following review helpful By Edward Bosnar on October 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Unlike Sinclair's best-known novel, "The Jungle," with its bleak story and gloomy characters, "Oil!" is a fast-paced, lively and colorful story. Although Sinclair uses it to preach his political views, it is nevertheless a good piece of literature and an interesting historical testimony to the era in which it was written. Another striking thing is how Sinclair's descriptions of corporate manipulations tend to mirror very recent events. Interesting also is that Sinclair uses one of the oldest cliches in American literature, the coming-of-age story, as the vehicle for this epic; at the same time, there are indications that Sinclair seems to mock this manner of story-telling - from the main character's rather silly nick-name, "Bunny" to his perennial inability to make up his mind about where he wants to go with his life, i.e. he never really 'comes of age.' Other reviewers have noted Sinclair's apparently naive promotion of socialism/communism/the Bolsheviks, which is a valid criticism, although to me it seemed more a case of the author throwing out ideas to provoke readers into thinking rather than an attempt to persuade them. In this sense, his use of the family of a wealthy California oil baron as the main protagonists is quite telling: although Sinclair does take the opportunity to highlight the hypocrisy and greed of the moneyed classes, he also makes a genuine attempt to portray them as real people rather than just grotesque caricatures. I also noticed that many of his characterizations of the working class/poor are often less than flattering. Regardless, this is a really entertaining novel, probably Sinclair's best.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Bomojaz on August 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
When Warren G. Harding died suddenly in California in 1923, he was one of the most beloved President's ever. It wasn't long, however, before that opinion changed, so that today he is considered among the worst. The revelation after his death of the Teapot Dome scandal that occurred during his administration was paramount in destroying his reputation. And it involved oil (the naval oil reserves in Wyoming were being sold off by corrupt politicians close to Harding). Sinclair based this novel on Teapot Dome. It basically shows how a decent man and his son Bunny Ross are up against insurmountable odds in the oil business, what with corruption all around. Sinclair's solution was dramatic: for him socialism was the answer; capitalism was too corrupt. A big, brawling novel, not particularly memorable for its style; but its muscular approach and willingness to tackle important issues make it worth reading.
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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Jean Huyser on August 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Anyone who wants a vivid, first-hand account of Southern California life in the 1920's will love this novel. It captures the go-go energy of the times, peppered with jazz-era slang, which perhaps was so fresh at the time this novel was written that Sinclair chose to put these terms in quotations. (Modern readers will be surprised that most of this slang is in common use today). Of course, one can't ignore the larger political, social and cultural themes that explode upon these pages. The oil boom that grips everyone in Southern California is just the tip of the iceberg. The weirder aspect is how little has changed in the past 75 years, We are still grappling with the same issues of political corruption, wage inequality, excesses of capitalism, cult of celebrity, and lest we forget, the youth and car culture. Even more disturbing are the passing references to American oil interests in the middle east. There's some laugh out loud passages; one of the most memorable concerns an Oklahoma oil man who lays on the down-home drawl to intimadate European diplomats. Hmmmm, now that sounds familiar....
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By SORE EYES on March 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE THE OIL BUSINESS, LIKE NO BUSINESS YOU'LL KNOW.

A bit different from the movie, "Oil" is a story written from the third person narrative of Bunny Arnold Ross Jr, son of oil tycoon, Arnold Ross. The story follows Arnold Ross from scroungy wildcatter to oil tycoon.

"Oil" was written at the turn of the century by "muckraker" Upton Sinclair. I've read a lot of Sinclair novels and have come to own many of his first editions, but his appeal to me was not immediate. The Jungle, for example, was written about the Chicago meatpacking industry. It's publication-first as a special edition for members of the Communist Party- provoked the government to pass the meat inspecting standards that we now have-"USDA Inspected". Sinclair novels often lack denouement and the plots are thinly disguised vehicles for presenting a litany of horrors perpetrated against the poor by greedy capitalists. The list of horrors can be shocking-workers lost limbs in vats of meat and production was not stopped to recover the limb or help the dying man-but even lists of horrors need to be presented with strong plots.

What is present in "Oil" the novel that is not present in "There Will Be Blood" is that Bunny argues fervently with his father on behalf of his father's oil workers. In the movie, we see Daniel Day Lewis stopping work for a day when an oil worker is crushed at the bottom of a well. In a Sinclair novel, the worker would have been left at the bottom of the well as long as he wasn't clogging flow. Or you see Daniel Day Lewis tenderly adopt the orphaned child of a friend. In a Sinclair novel, an orphaned child that needed feeding and couldn't work would have been left to die in the desert. Sinclair presented the difference between capitalists and socialists starkly.
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