The Prize is one of the best books I've ever read. I wish I could give it a couple of bonus stars in my rating here.
You'd really be selling this book short to think of it just as a history of oil, the oil business, and oil politics in the middle east. Even that would have been an ambitious book but Yergin makes it so much more. It honestly is a thorough history of the entire 20th century (sans the 90s) viewed through the perspective of the oil industry.
As each chapter, era, decade, and war unfolds in Yergin's story, you'll gain a much better understanding of the roots of many of the US public's stances on big business, anti-trust legislation, and other pivotal issues of the last 100 years. You'll see how pivotal energy resources were in shaping the planning and rationale for 2 world wars and how the ready availability or lack of oil played as much of a role in winning and losing those wars as did battlefield strategies and the valor of the millions of soldiers involved. You'll see the role oil and energy played in the final collapse of the great imperial powers.
Probably most relevant to 2007, the lessons Yergin teaches about middle east history, the changing power roles the evolved in the last 50-60 years as the power shifted from the oil companies to the oil producing countries. Tracing the roots of nationalization of oil production in Mexico and Venezuela is a great stepping stone to understanding out current relationship with Venezuela but it also properly frames the story of the origins of OPEC and OPEC policies. And it's so important to get a understanding of the power plays, who's who, back room deals, and longstanding rivalries that built and reinforced the animosity that so many in the middle east felt and feel toward the US and other western and oil consuming countries.
It also traces the missteps and failed attempts at alternative energy sources as far back as the turn of the 19th century, including how alternative sources for aviation fuel provided the German Luftwaffe almost enough fuel to keep going in WWII. And it's easy to see how most other western nations have failed miserably to make the alternative fuel investments that might have paid those same kind of dividends.
The history of how many relations between nations were built on the personal charisma and power of individual leaders is also a powerful lesson for the future when you look at what happens to those relationships when the leader falls or is removed from power. Yergin's tracing of the entire story of the rise and exile of the Shah of Iran is must reading as western leaders might all be thinking while middle eastern leaders and families might be in danger of falling to that same fate and what effect that would have on our immediate oil supplies.
Any western reader and especially readers in the US should look at Yergin's perspective on the fall of the British empire as partially a failure to efficiently transition from a coal economy (coal being a resource England was rich in) to an oil economy (oil being scarce in the British empire until the North Sea discoveries at which time it was really to late to matter). When the US oil balance tipped from exporter to importer and as that balance swings even more out of whack, US readers have to be forced to ask themselves, how long can the US sustain as a world power while exporting so many dollars in exchange for oil and even worse, how ill prepared we could be for a scarcity of oil 25, 50, or 70 years from now. The oil producing nations all recognized 50 or more years ago that their oil revenue would only last so long, that there are only so many decades worth of oil to pump out of the ground at a given pace, and that it was in their interest to maximize the revenue from each barrel pumped. The US and other consumers need to make the corollary discovery: that there is only such much oil to be had and we need to maximize the use and benefit out of each barrel pumped.
Fanatically, even though it covers all this ground, all these disparate topics, Yergin's writing is still incredibly readable and the story well put together. It's hard to imagine a history book that is a "page turner" but this one really is.
In short, if you haven't read this, you should. Maybe if every member of the US House and Senate and all the President's advisors would read this, a few light bulbs would turn on (compact fluorescent energy saving bulbs of course) regarding our energy and foreign policies.
on October 9, 2001
My interest in Daniel Yergin's "The Prize" was piqued earlier in the year, when energy, not terrorism, was the most pressing domestic problem. For an economy that had gotten so caught up with the intangibles, with over-hyped, un-real products (haven't we all had enough of "e-business solutions?"), it was refreshing to study an industry dealing with a very tangible product whose supply is so essential to the survival of our economy itself.
"The Prize" traces the history of oil from its humble, entrepreneurial beginnings in the hillsides of western Pennsylvania, to the shrewd domination of the industry by John D. Rockefeller, to the breakup of Standard Oil, and through the discovery of oil in the farthest flung corners of the globe. Part of Yergin's history is something of a tragedy: the gradual seizure of oil from the voyagers who discovered it by national governments who were able to use their seizures to threaten the West during the 1973 oil shock and beyond. In this one very big instance, third world governments really did take on multinational corporations -- and defeated them.
Yergin chronicles how oil went from a freewheeling business of refiners and speculators to an instrument of great geopolitical importance, one where nation-states played at least as great a role in shaping the industry as the oil companies did. In this transition, anything could -- and did -- happen. Rock bottom prices threatened the survival of oil producers one year, and sky-high prices forced drastic changes in consumer behavior the next (indeed, "The Prize" does give one a crystal-clear view of the price mechanism). Nightmare scenarios involving the political manipulation of oil did indeed come to pass in 1973, in 1979, and during the Gulf War. There is no shortage of high drama throughout this story.
One thing I would add to this book is a few pages, no more, no less, on the science and technology behind oil. What is it -- or what do we think it came from? How is it extracted? How have new technologies increased efficiency?
If you want a business history that will simultaneously teach you quite a bit about world history (and about the Middle East), "The Prize" is a sure bet.
on February 24, 2001
...'Hydrocarbon Man' rocks on. 'Rock Oil' and the 'Age of Oil' are two descriptive phrases that Yergin uses to 'bookend' his epic story - 'The Prize'. He starts with a vignette about how rock oil - a black, sticky substance found in the backwoods of northwest Pennsylvania and used as a folk medicine came to be made into an illuminant (kerosene); one which quickly supplanted whale oil, camphene and 'town gas' (a distillate of coal) as the preferred means of lighting one's home. Yergin concludes with the prospects for the future of us -'hydrocarbon man' as we continue with our dependancy on oil.
From the opening pages it is clear that Yergin is an authority on the subject. We have not travelled more than 10 years along the 150 year history of oil and yet we have already learnt it's origins, it's ancient and alternate uses, the products it was competing with, and we have met some of the early inventors, entrepreneur's and explorers.
There are three themes that Yergin develops throughout the book. Firstly, the story of oil is the story of capitalism and modern business. The province of Fortune 500 companies, multinationals and the underpinning of wealth in the industrialized west. Certainly, from as early as the late 19th Century, with the emergence of Standard Oil as the first multinational company (a subject Yergin devotes a fair amount of time to),- it's hard to refute this claim. Yergin does recognize that the late 20th Century was less oil lubricated and more computer chip driven, and it's obvious to all of us that this trend will only intensify in this century. Indeed from the time the first edition of 'The Prize' was published (just before the Gulf War) and even since this edition came out in 1993 -things have changed quite a bit economically. In 1990, seven of the top 20 Fortune 500 Companies were in the oil industry. Today you have to extend the search further, and even then only come up with Exxon-Mobil, Enron, Chevron and Texaco.
The second theme he highlights is the role oil had in strategic global geoplolitical decicions and disasters. He lays at the feet of 'oil politics' the Japanese decision to bomb Pearl Harbour and Germany's invasion of Russia. Typically in a classic example of the irony that history is famous for, the eventual defeat of these two empires was also due to oil (actually the lack of it). There are of course other more recent strategic oil wars - what was the Gulf War and the unprecedented United Nations stand against Iraq if not a defense of the 'blood supply' for industrialized nations? This revised edition of the book makes it quite clear that Iraq if successful in it's swallowing of Kuwait, would have been the most powerful nation in The Persian Gulf.
The third theme is more sociological and forces us to deal with questions not of history but of our future. Yergin states that we have become a 'Hydrocarbon Society' and thus we are 'Hydrocarbon Man'. What characterizes us as this new species? Basically that our cities, politics, economics, values - in fact almost all things material and of importance to us are lubricated with a concern about oil. This used to be seen as a universal good - but no more, There are some of us, Mr Yergin says, including himself, that are concerned about this dependency - It's impact on our behavior, our health and our environment and our ability to sustain our way of life.
I agree with other reviewers in that more could have been said on some issues such as alternative energy sources, the economic and environmental arguments for and against our continued reliance on oil and the spin off activities and other associated industries such as plastics and chemicals. But, in fairness to Mr Yergin, there is so much that you can and should say, especially when you find that it is taking you over 800 pages to say it. For me, as a history book on the oil industry, it's certainly long enough but more importantly - good enough.
on January 25, 2009
Yergin's prize-winning 1991 history stretches from the first Pennsylvania oil rush in 1860 to the crash of world oil prices in 2008, and it all reads like a novel. Well, not quite. The new epilogue, which covers the period after the Gulf war in 11 pages, skims along ten times faster than the rest and feels a bit more like a history lesson. But it gives you a balanced view of recent events.
I bought it as I started researching energy. Two full bookshelves later, I can tell you, no other book in this field holds a candle to it for fascination and information. I've read complaints about what it doesn't cover so here are some alternatives, but if you want tales of the way greed, ignorance, and cleverness respond to natural wealth and, in turn, shape world history and current global politics, this is your book.
• Oil geology and exploration: Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage (New Edition).
• What to do about OPEC: Carbonomics: How to Fix the Climate and Charge It to OPEC.
• Alternatives to Oil: Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition.
• Big Oil's power: The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry--and What We Must Do to Stop It.
There's no summarizing such a book, but this might give you an idea of the tales it tells: The 1930 discovery of the Black Giant in East Texas nearly destroyed the oil industry, sending prices down to thirteen cents a barrel. After a voluntary shutdown failed, the Governor of Texas sent the Texas Rangers in on horseback. They shut down production and sent prices back up. This led to the Texas Railroad Commission becoming the first government-organized oil cartel — a model for OPEC years later.
As an economist I really appreciate the fact that Yergin gets his economics right. This is crucial for a book about price manipulation, and it's pretty unusual. For example he understands why the Saudis tried to hold price down in 1979 and why Bush Senior flew to Saudi Arabia in 1986 to try to get them to raise the price back up! Yergen helps you understand exactly why things happen in this topsey-turvey world.
In any case, The Prize has been selling like hotcakes for 18 years. Whether you're fascinated by powerful historical forces or disgusted but intrigued by fossil fuel, you won't be disappointed.
on August 17, 2004
Yergin does a great job in writing an informative AND easy to read book. There is little technical jargon to get in the way of the story he tells. "The Prize" is not onlyinformative,it is also entertaining, especially the cast of characters, ranging form Rockefeller to Bush the Elder (there is a great picture of G.W. Bush as a little boy standing next to his father at an unveiling of an oil facility). There are a few problems, however. First, although it is already over 800 pages long, the book deserves to be longer. More on the Soviet experience in oil, and a focus on pre-Saddam Iraq and other oil producers outside the Persian Gulf would have been welcome. Second, as other reviewers have mentioned,it would be great to see an updated edition come out. The world has changed a lot since the end of Gulf War ( I think the book ends before the collapse of the USSR, but I may be wrong) and I would be very intersted in reading what Yergin has to write about it. Third, while Yergin does discuss many aspects of the international oil scene,it seems to me that his account focuses on the Anglo-American experience a little too much. This stems partly from the pact that America and Britain were the power players in oil for so long, but it would still be nice to see how the oil drama played out elsewhere in the world. My final issue with this otherwise wonderful book is has to do with politics and economics. It is obvious that Yergin was trying to write a "fair and balanced" account of the history of oil. However, as someone who has been influenced by free-market economics,it is difficult for me not to point out the relationship between oil companies and governments. Whether it is Mexico nationalizing oil wells or New Dealers suing American oil companies for practices the New Dealers themselves encouraged, "The Prize" tells a story of various governments using every method, fair and foul (usually foul), to pump ,pun intended, oil comapnies out of as much money as possible. The most obivous examples are the nationalizations of oil companies' property in the Middle East,Iran, Mexico,and Venezuela. This is not meant to defend the oil companies as angels of all that is good: they too engage in political rent seeking when it promised more money or power. But, it becomes very easy to see towards the end of the book who really calls the shots in the oil industry. All in all,"The Prize" is entertaing and informative and makes a great summer read
on January 11, 2001
The Prize follows the major developments in the oil industry, from its inception with the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company through the Gulf War.
The Prize well deserves the praise it has received. Yergin's research and knowledge of the history of the oil industry are obvious and make this a great historical work, yet the length and the abundance of detail do not impinge on the readability of the book.
Among many insightful sections of this book, I found the chapters on the role of oil in the Second World War to be particularly interesting. After reading other books about the battles of that war, it was useful to learn something about the logistics behind those battles.
It is unfortunate that this book is already a decade old. In his epilogue, Yergin touches on the Gulf War and the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world's largest oil producer in the late 1980's, but this was not quite history yet when he was writing The Prize.
We are living in the Age of oil.
World and human civilization have experienced different "ages" such as the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Gilded Age, and so on. The 20th and 21st Centuries are indeed, the "Oil Age." We are living in it. This book is one of the most informative and relevant books published in recent years, In my opinion. This work by Daniel Yergin was and still is prescient today, in 2007. "The Prize" tells the story of where we are today, and how we got here. It also latently foresees where we're going in the future. The book doesn't tell us - we just know. We're human. This book is so comprehensive and has so much information only a small portion of it can be noted. Below relates to WWII, and former Iranian leader Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh.
"The Prize" proceeds chronologically. And within the chapters there are numerous mini-subtitles for sub-chapters that connect the big picture. The bibliography and index are excellent and can be used to tie in different figures and historical occurrences. The 'history of oil' is actually the history of the world: humankind, business, innovations, globalization, war, and geo-political power-plays. The very survival of a nation-state is based upon oil.
"The Prize" begins with tiny puddles of black, sticky, goo, in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800s. Locals collected this goo and realized its many uses. In 1859 oil was struck. Almost immediately, the wealth and power amassed from possession and control of oil was realized. The initial trust acts in the U.S. are related to the oil industry, in which Barons quickly gained gargantuan amounts of wealth and political power.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because of oil. Japanese conquests throughout South-East Asia and the Pacific were motivated not only by the quest for dominance but for securing oil and keeping their oil (fuel) supply lines open. Without supply lines of oil, the war machine would completely break down, as it later did (Chapter 8).
The Americans sacrificed a lot, but Japan in large part lost WWII because of its lack of fuel for planes, ships, and ground forces. Domestically, the Japanese economy collapsed because of its inability to import oil. The Kamikazes were brought into existence after the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Philippines, in 1944. Lack of oil meant lack of fighter plane fuel. Fuel supplies became so low they actually stopped training Japanese pilots at all. Pilots were ordered to "follow the leader" to the attack site because they didn't even have navigation training.
There was even an "Oil Czar" In the U.S. during World War II in PAW, the Petroleum Administration for War. The Oil Czar was Harold Ickes.
In the European Theater's Eastern Front Germany invaded Russia with Operation Barbarossa mostly to get the oil in the Caucuses (In addition to "lebensraum" and "untermensch" beliefs). In addition, a needed land-route to Iron Ore in Scandinavia via the Baltic SSR Republics was a factor. Hitler also began making synthetic oil because without enough of it Germany's war machine, domestic economy, and arms production were doomed. These synthetic oil factories were top targets in Allied bombing missions.
Oil and the Cold War World:
The Soviets dominated Eastern Europe and exerted its influence after WWII for 45 years because the Allies ran out of gasoline. When the British 3rd Army and U.S. 1st Army were advancing eastward toward Berlin chasing demoralized, retreating, and broken German troops in disarray. But because of the lack of gasoline for the Allied Armies, a million people ended up losing their lives and war was prolonged because the Germans were able to retreat and re-organize (page 388).
If someone says "it's not about the oil" today in 2007, tell them to read this book. Oil encompasses almost all things in our daily lives, whether we are are conscious of it, or not.
Oil, Military, and Economic Interests:
Democratically elected governments are overthrown by foreign governments because of oil. In 1953 Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was democratically elected in Iran. He was an anti-communist. He didn't like the 93% to 7% profit sharing split with a British Oil company operating inside Iran. He changed it to 50-50. The CIA sponsored a coup to overthrow him. Americans were repeatedly told by the U.S. media that Mossadegh was a communist and communist sympathizer, although factually untrue. The American public believed this propaganda, according to poll results. Gullible? Mossadegh was ousted and the Shah was placed in power. Democracy has never been supported in the Middle East and it isn't now by the U.S. government. Also see the Carter Doctrine of 1980.
Most of us as individual consumers literally need oil to function. Dependence upon oil is for the continuation of the nation-state, its military machines, and domestic economy. More critical today, is that nation-states need a *sufficient* supply of it.
This is a positive book. It's a history book.
We're in the heart of the "Oil Age."
on March 2, 2003
"The Prize" is considered to be the "black bible" of the oil industry and not without reason. Yergin has written an outstanding book, so well researched that just the notes and bibliography together are almost 100 pages!! This book is highly deserving of the Pulitzer price.
Reading this book will be like an intensive course / refresher of your history knowledge of the last two centuries. The author starts back in the 19th century. The big day, 27 August 1859, the day "The Colonel" Edwin L. Drake found oil in Titusville, Texas - till just after the Golf War in 1991.
A book covering the last two centuries, gives us quite naturally, a large dose of world history. And many pages are dedicated to men that made a huge impact, and was an important part of this history - Nobel, Teagle, Rockefeller, "The Colonel" (Drake), Gulbenkian, and Churchill just to mention a few. Further, the author gives us an insight to the politics in the oil industry, governmental interference and how the politics in the industry works (or don't...). In lay man terms Yergin explains why and how vulnerable the industry is, about the more resent but also the past oil-crisis, how little it takes for the oil-price to spin out of control, and how the economies around the world more and more depend on the black gold.
Unfortunately, with its +800 pages this is not a book you accidentally pick just to have something to read. I am sure that the length of this book keeps lay readers away from it and that is a shame. It can be quite daunting project to start on, but once you have started, you will not put it away until you have finished it. I must admit that I was a little sceptical to what level the language would be on, but fear not, the book is kept on an accessible level, even for the lay reader. To the author's credit, he strikes the perfect balance between facts, technical jargon, and anecdotes, which makes "The Prize" a long, time-consuming, but nevertheless fascinating and entertaining read.
I found "The Prize" to be a great overview over the industry. I picked up lots and lots of new facts from this book, and I am certain that I will cite this book in the future. On a personal note, I wish the author would update the book with more than a new preface. A few more chapters to include the last decade as well would be highly welcome.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to fill in on the knowledge of the oil industry.
on June 8, 2003
I decided to pick up this book because I wanted to know how influential oil was as a factor in international politics. In the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, many protestors held signs saying "No blood for Oil." Was the war all about oil?? I decided to find out. I was told by many that this was a definitive account of the role of oil in world politics and a good place to start...
Not only was it a great history lesson, it was an absolute page turner!! You wouldn't think a history of the oil industry could be gripping, but his depiction of the characters, world leaders and crucial decisions of the 20th century was compulsive reading.
Clearly, as Yergin points out, oil is a VERY strong, motivating factor behind many geo-political issues...
Absolutely brilliant. I feel that I am a more enlightened person for having read this book. It should be required reading for all students of history...
on December 11, 2002
This book is one of those rare non-fiction books that is simultaneously huge, broad, very deeply researched and annotated, and emminantly readable. Daniel Yergin has detailed, in broad strokes, the entire history of the Oil Industry from the first discovery in Titusville, PA to the invasion of Iraq.
What makes this book good is its easy and flowing storyteller style in detailing very complex political and socio-economic world affairs. What makes it a great book and a bestseller is the epic nature the book takes on. The subtitle 'Epic Quest," sounds a lot like an editorial decision to sell books, but it is quite accurately descriptive of the book's evocative power. One really gets a sense of global struggle, and Yergin's focus on the stories of individual people gives the book a very intimate feel to it. Hense 'Epic Quest.' Sounds silly, but read the book and you'll understand.