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on March 3, 2016
An interesting read from the layman's perspective of how oil travels from the ground to ultimately your gas tank. I think the better parts were on downstream operations (what happens at the refinery and afterward), while the upstream (drilling) and midstream (pipeline/transportation to refinery) sections didn't have as much depth as I'd hope, even for a layman. That said, it's well written for an author who's not in-industry, and provides some unique insights and presents questions you wouldn't hear from a more seasoned veteran, which is a great perspective.
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"Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline" is the story, from beginning to end, of how oil is pumped, traded, refined, distributed and sold to the public. In addition, the book covers the conditions, both political and cultural, in a number of oil producing countries.

The book is divided roughly in half. The first half follows the flow of fuel from its start in the ground through the various handlers until it is pumped into your car. The author, however, doesn't just recite a litany of facts. She narrates well and adds information about the processes that are not common knowledge. The second half of the book is a look at where oil originates and the conditions in those countries as they relate to oil. And, the reality is that there is a socio-economic result of discovering and pumping oil from the earth.

The author does a wonderful job of weaving a story out of a number of rather dull facts and makes the book interesting, as well as informative. Her writing style reminded me of the books by Eric Schlosser or Barbara Ehrenreich.

After reading the book I found myself looking at gas stations in a new light and thinking about what I was doing every time I pulled up to the pump. I also noticed I was taking a few extra steps to try to cut my consumption a little. I think this book has a powerful message that needs to be read by the oil consuming public which may help to change their purchasing habits.
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on January 14, 2008
Like countless Americans, you pull up to a pump and begin the drudgery of filling your car up with gas (while watching the numbers tick higher and ever higher). As you leave, you can't help but shake your fist at the station. Under your breath you damn the brazen oil companies and their obscene profits.

Lisa Margonelli takes the reader on a long journey through the serpentine infrastructure of mighty oil. Along the way, Margonelli describes and uncovers the irony, the blood politics, the sheer oppressive scope of what it takes to get oil from point A to point B: A sort of reverse engineering to dispirited communities, hopeful venues, nations on the brink of crippling crisis and even great fortunes. From somewhere far, far away and remote to your swollen gas tank.

Aside from spending time in New York, California and Texas, Margonelli treks her way to Chad, Venezuela, Niger, Iran, and China.

You can't have your oil and the price of that fill-up without some history; most of it is boom and bust, bloody, contentious and conniving. The price of gas reflects all these things and more: A convoluted national infrastructure, involvement with petty warlords, a dubious foreign policy, and environmental impact. We love our cars and our roads to somewhere. The price to get to that "somewhere" is something to contemplate in more ways than one.

There is a chapter on the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) which I will admit I knew some of. Margonelli goes into greater detail and I did learn a thing or two. I found it to be very interesting. A chapter on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where oil is traded, is also very informative and revealing.

Overall, I appreciated Margonelli's balanced and vivid writing style. I found her to be fair and straight-forward.

This book is highly recommended.
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on May 3, 2017
Worked in the upstream oil market for some time. This book gives an interesting insight into the downstream market. Still think the corruption and cartel business is being downplayed.
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on May 8, 2007
Margonelli spent three years traveling around the world documenting different stages in the oil flow. The book can be divided in two parts, the first part in the USA in six chapters: 1) gas station, 2) oil delivery trucks, 3) oil refinery, 4) oil drilling, 5) oil futures market, 6) strategic oil reserve. The second part examines overseas oil sources: 7) Venezuela, 8) Chad, 9) Iran, 10) Nigeria, 11) China. Within each chapter is a human-interest story with Margonelli interacting with a main character (gas station owner, drill operator, oil warlord, Iranian minister of oil, etc..) and tangents to highlight encyclopedic facts about the history of the place or institution in a sometimes overly-stylized magazine-prose.

I found the later overseas chapters the most interesting, to learn about the history of oil states and how interconnected everything is. The vast majority of the worlds oil is owned by governments, and not by the Exxon's of the world which only have about 20%, thus Margonelli's focus on the oil states was spot on. In regards to who is to blame for high gas prices in the US, the best theory was from a oil trader in NYC who says its simple supply and demand, China and other countries are demanding a lot more oil.

4 stars: stylistically the prose was inconsistent. At times it flowed well, other times it was choppy with halting sentences, or tried too hard to be clever and endearing (how many ways can you say "the bolt is as big as (fill in the blank)") - it felt like two different people worked on it. I also thought some of the human interest stories were unnecessarily unsympathetic. The excellent information about oil made it worth the trip, Margonelli's three years traveling around the world to remote and often dangerous places (and probably often boring) has been a great help in understanding first-hand what is happening.
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on October 11, 2014
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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on July 3, 2007
As an economist and active trader this is a very useful book for background information on this very important sector of the world economy. As a consumer of oil an oil products I believe this book is also useful general knowledge the author has presented the material in a manner that reads fast and holds the readers interest. I believe she presented the material with an unbiased explanation of the various segments of the oil business from consumers to producers with all the intermittant players along the way. Nice work
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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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on August 24, 2016
far too many marks on pages. such a book cannot be sold. I ended up throw it away
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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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