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Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia (Harvard Historical Studies)

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ISBN-13: 978-0674025417
ISBN-10: 0674025415
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Combining social, political, and economic history with great aplomb, Oil Empire greatly enriches the history of an understudied region. Frank skillfully engages the bewildering patchwork that was Galicia. Poles battled Ukrainians, Catholics persecuted Jews, agrarian nobles fought bourgeois modernizers, socialists rose and fell, German-speaking civil servants tried to lord it over everyone, and hordes of peasants emigrated to other lands. The imperial center alternately clashed with and ignored the provincial periphery. Frank has constructed a balanced narrative, a sophisticated analysis, and a very persuasive argument. (Thomas K. McCraw, editor of Creating Modern Capitalism)

In this riveting account, Alison Frank deftly brings to life the dramatic world of the Galician oil industry in imperial Austria. Her vivid portrait examines the conflicting efforts of a strange collection of characters indeed--mad scientists, wildcatters, Galician aristocrats, Habsburg bureaucrats, foreign investors, and dueling nationalists--to appropriate the earth's riches to serve their various ambitions. The results transformed an 'Austrian El Dorado' into a living hell on earth. (Pieter M. Judson, Swarthmore College)

Oil Empire is a significant and original contribution that situates economic development in its cultural, social, environmental, and political settings. The book will interest scholars of economic history, history of the oil industry, nationalism studies, Central European history, and environmental history. (Catherine Albrecht, University of Baltimore)

[Frank's] pioneering and sophisticated book is the fruit of patient archival digging in five languages, a comprehensive command of the relevant literature, and cross-disciplinary, collegial interaction. It integrates technology and business into political, social, and economic history and proves that treasures may lie in forgotten episodes of the past...Frank sets out to explain 'why oil did not make Galicia rich' and achieves a fascinating account of oil producers, worker-peasants, government bureaucrats, landowners, and an assortment of others, often unsavory characters whose economic motives varied even within their respective groups and whose identities were overlaid with multiple ethnic, religious, linguistic, and geographic markers. (Karen J. Freeze Enterprise and Society 2006-08-10)

Whatever one's views about the merits of regulation, in theory or in practice, Frank deserves to be thanked for piecing together this fascinating story from archives in half a dozen countries, thus opening a new dimension to our understanding of Galicia that has languished far too long almost exclusively in the literary domain. (Lothar Höbelt International History Review 2006-09-01)

This book is a good read. Not only is the material absorbing, but Frank often phrases things in refreshing ways. It is an important work for those interested in the history of the Habsburg monarchy, Poles and Ukrainians, and the oil industry. (John-Paul Himka American Historical Review 2006-06-01)

Frank's fascinating book conducts a historical excursion to those oil fields [of eastern Galicia]--through the ages of their economic rise, boom, decline, and collapse--and she offers a richly insightful analysis of how the program for the development of the oil industry ultimately failed to bring economic prosperity to remedy the proverbial misery of Galicia...Frank's work offers a multifaceted understanding of the oil industry, not only in its social, political, and economic aspects, but also in terms of technology, nationality, and culture...[An] important book. Oil Empire--full of vivid accounts, sharp insights, and provocative questions--will compel historians to reflect on the multiple dimensions of imperial, national, and provincial history in central Europe. (Larry Wolff Central European History 2007-03-01)

Alison Frank takes "a little known curiosity"--the Galician oil boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries--and has written of it one of the boldest and most original histories of East Central Europe to appear in a long time. Frank weaves a marvelous tale about a commodity bubbling up from under the earth's surface...and the myriad characters "who hoped to use oil to achieve a certain goal."...It is, in sum, a madcap history of modernity from the fringes of the Hapsburg Monarchy. (Maureen Healy Austrian Studies Newsletter 2007-04-01)

Review

Combining social, political, and economic history with great aplomb, Oil Empire greatly enriches the history of an understudied region. Frank skillfully engages the bewildering patchwork that was Galicia. Poles battled Ukrainians, Catholics persecuted Jews, agrarian nobles fought bourgeois modernizers, socialists rose and fell, German-speaking civil servants tried to lord it over everyone, and hordes of peasants emigrated to other lands. The imperial center alternately clashed with and ignored the provincial periphery. Frank has constructed a balanced narrative, a sophisticated analysis, and a very persuasive argument. (Thomas K. McCraw, editor of Creating Modern Capitalism) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard Historical Studies (Book 149)
  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674025415
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674025417
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By john perrin on September 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is a rare historical work which combines readability and depth of insight. While I have read others that also achieve this mark, OIL EMPIRE is one of the few that does so and still maintains the specificity of an academic work. At times I found the author violated Orwell's dictum to use the simplest vocabulary to convey an idea, but this did not distract from the pleasure of reading this book. I tend to focus more on classical histories, and new nothing about the history of Galicia before I started, but I found the the author was able to situate her research so that this was not a problem. When I finished the book I was reminded of the old saying that to understand a large problem we must first understand a small problem. After the events of 9/11 it is no longer just the leftists who assert that control of the oil economy is at the heart of our foreign policy. This book provides a case study of how the same ambitions that we have today were played out on a smaller scale at the turn of the last century. I look forward to seeing what the author has in store for her next work.
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Format: Paperback
By way of introduction, this subject is of personal significance. My grandfather owned an oil well in the Boryslaw oil field.

This work, though detailed, suffers from a number of shortcomings. It has a pronounced pro-Ukrainian bias. For instance, author Frank repeatedly quotes Ukrainian writer and separatist Ivan Franko as some kind of authority on Poles and Polish-Ukrainian relations. In addition, this work abruptly ends around the time of WWI. It tells us little about Boryslaw during the Second Republic (1918-1939), except the fact that production continued to decline and never matched pre-WWI production, and that its production was overshadowed, and made unprofitable, by the rapid expansion of oil production elsewhere. Frank tells us almost nothing about Boryslaw under Soviet, Nazi German, and renewed Soviet rule. He tells us nothing about Boryslaw in post-Soviet Ukraine. Finally, there is almost nothing about Boryslaw (Borislav) today, except for a 2000 photo that shows the derricks gone, and with oil production having essentially ceased. (pp. 248-249). [Addendum: This is not the end of Boryslaw. The recent boom in shale gas has caused a renewal of interest in both Polish Galicia and Ukrainian Galicia as significant sources of hydrocarbon--this time, natural gas.]

The first significant exploitation of the Boryslaw oil took place by part-time shovel and bucket-bearing artisans, of Polish and Ukrainian peasantry, and Jews, in the latter half of the 19th century. (p. 17). Boryslaw's population grew from less than 500 in 1860 to 12,000 in 1898. (p. 20; see also p. 77). In time, foreign companies, with their deep-drilling equipment, joined in the effort.
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