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The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power
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The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power

4.37 of 5 stars 4.37  ·  rating details  ·  3,691 ratings  ·  366 reviews
The Prize recounts the panoramic history of oil -- and the struggle for wealth and power that has always surrounded oil. This struggle has shaken the world economy, dictated the outcome of wars, and transformed the destiny of men and nations.

The Prize is as much a history of the twentieth century as of the oil industry itself. The canvas of history is enormous -- from the...more
Paperback, 928 pages
Published 1993 by Free Press (first published 1991)
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John Adams by David McCullough1776 by David McCulloughThe Guns of August by Barbara W. TuchmanTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinThe Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
Best History Books
57th out of 1,391 books — 1,315 voters
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Looming Tower by Lawrence WrightThe Guns of August by Barbara W. TuchmanA Problem from Hell by Samantha PowerThe Prize by Daniel Yergin
Pulitzer Winners: General Non-fiction
5th out of 56 books — 154 voters

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Community Reviews

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Long, but soooooo good. Lots of people write books like How Soccer Explains the World, which you read and think, "That was cute, but soccer doesn't ACTUALLY explain the world." The thing is, to hear Yergin tell it, oil actually DOES explain the world, at least for the last 150 years, and I believe him. Extremely well researched and written, but also surprisingly lively and imbued with humor as well. Kudoes to Yergin for doing so well with a topic that's potentially so dry.

(It won the 1992 Pulitz...more
I bought Daniel Yergin’s The Prize during one of my semi-regular fits of intellectual hunger, which often strike after I’ve read five straight books about Nazi henchman and zero books about anything relevant to today’s world. After the purchase, I put it on the shelf. And there it sat, for a long, long time. It is, after all, a tremendously big tome about oil; it does not scream out to be consumed or embraced or loved. For a long time it just sat there, on my shelf, laughing at me.

Finally, one...more
Feb 01, 2008 Naeem rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all people who can read
Shelves: mustreads
Be warned that Yergin is an apologist for Oil companies and doesn't have a critical word to say about capitalism in this 800 page plus book.

Nevertheless, I consider this a must read (I read it twice). First, Yergin writes like a journalist -- so the reading goes quickly and well.

More important, this is a comprehensive and thorough history of the commodity oil. When you review the history of the 20th century from the lens of oil, many things change and everything deepens. The chapters on WWII ar...more
Aaaand time. Take that, Prize. After a mere 2 full months, about 8 flights, and at least 2 pounds of lean muscle mass added from lifting this tome, I have finally taken down The Prize. Mr. Yergin, you are the definition of a worthy adversary, akin to the man in the black pajamas or the value menu at Jack in the Box.

The Prize is a book that, upon completion, made me feel completely ridiculous for ever having an opinion on anything (literally, anything) without this base collection of knowledge. W...more
Neither of the novels I’m currently reading is really going anywhere, so I started reading a history of the oil industry instead. As I’d expected, it was totally riveting. I find the role of oil in economic, political, and environmental development fascinating, so clearly was predisposed to like it. The book sustained my interest, even when recounting the technicalities of oil company mergers, through the use of a high quality journalistic approach. Each chapter began with a character vignette o...more
Oil is the thread connecting 130 years of global history through such characters as John D. Rockefeller, Harry Sinclair, Winston Churchill, King Faisal, Warren G. Harding, T.E. Lawrence and many more. Our oil addiction stemmed from the discovery of oil "seep fields" (think of teh Beverly Hillbillilies "bubblin' crude") in Western Pa.

The original oil boom sought to exploit kerosene as an improvement over whale oil burning in lamps. Oil fever waxed and waned until the commercialization of interna...more
As a history and energy enthusiast I simply adored this mammoth of a book (warning: this book is both huge and has small print. If this intimidates you stear clear because each page is chock full of fascinating and detailed knowledge and stories). What I particulalry liked about it was the level of detail Yergin went into explaining the dyanmics of the oil market thorughout its existence, the major players that moved those markets, and the reasons behind why they made the decisions they did. It...more
Mukesh Kumar
A fantastic account of the history of the world oil industry - and with it it the history of the modern economy, diplomacy and geopolitics. One can't begin to fathom the extensive research that the author has engaged in, to compose this epic of a book.
A must read for anyone remotely related to oil and energy business or anyone interested in understanding modern global politics and energy policy.
Paul Donahue
I would give this six stars if I could. I hate exaggerating but I don't think I am when I say this book has changed the way I think about the past, the present, and the future. It's impossible to retain even all the broad points made in this book, and I fail to comprehend how someone could possess all of that knowledge at the same time. Many of the sub-stories fall into the "I can't believe that actually happened" category.

It is not just a story of the oil industry. It is the story of one of the...more
I feel that I should write a massive review to do justice to this tome, but I doubt anyone would want to read that. This book could have been either much shorter or much longer; it's current length leaves me rather dissatisfied. Yergin has compiled phenomenal research and applied a creative and fascinating lens to historical events. As various players, countries, and situations enter the sphere of Yergin's history of oil, he then has to provide background on them, struggling to find the balance...more
Robert Morris
This book is fantastic. I am a bit of a history buff and have read a fair amount of it, but this book added a whole new dimension to my understanding of the past century. Petrochemicals, and the benefits and security issues that they bring have been central to the way the modern world has formed. This may seem to be an obvious statement, but it is not a story that people focus on much. Yergin has filled this gap. Vital reading.

One thing that I found particularly illuminating is the perpetual bo...more
A well-written essay on the history of oil. The book reads on many levels. One could use it as just a history of oil, in which the reader, on top of that, gets some biographies of famous oil barons (Rockefeller, Deterding, George Bush sr.) for free. Oil proves also to be a textbook example of applied micro- and industrial economics: cartels, free market with lots of suppliers and customers, import quota, impact of taxes,... Last but not least, the book offers a good insight in the geopolitical i...more
Feb 20, 2009 Blake rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History junkies
Recommended to Blake by:
A most excellent work of history which explores every facet of the history of oil. The scope and research is truly amazing, ranging from biography of individual oil tycoons and entrepreneurs to political, economic, social, and military history. Surprisingly, despite the topic, "The Prize" is very readable and, despite its over 800 page length, is concise as it moves through events. I would rank this as one of the most informative works of history I have read. Everyone knows oil is important, but...more
William Dearth
This book is for those who know it all as well as for those that think they know it all. I rank it right up there with Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers as essential reading.

The level of detail is immense throughout the book, but the last 1/3 is truly scary.

For political aficionados, it is indispensable.

This should be deserving of a five star rating. I rated it at four stars only because I read it intermittently throughout the year. That takes away from the continuity of the...more
Nitya Sivasubramanian
I desperately want to read this book cover to cover. Unfortunately, being reading nonfiction that requires actual fact retention to proceed from chapter to chapter and taking care of an 8-month old full-time don't exactly go hand in hand. So unfortunately, I had to take this book back to the library half-read. I do have this to say though, any book that has me laughing out loud and waking my husband up to spout facts about the name of a certain oil company, definitely a must-read in my opinion!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This sweeping history of oil takes us from the first strike in Pennsylvania in 1859 to the Gulf War in 1990. Along the way we encounter personalities from John D. Rockefeller to George H. W. Bush, companies from Standard Oil to T. Boone Pickens’ Mesa Petroleum, booms and panics from Titusville Pa and Spindletop Texas to the global energy crises of the 1970’s and 90’s. If at times the detail is a bit overwhelming, it is highly instructive portraying the dynamics of oil’s impact on global economic...more
Simran Buttar
Very well written and well laid out book, although not explicitly stated but it provides direct insight into US foreign policy and energy matters. My views towards US politics, foreign policy, large energy companies and environment has completely changed.
Looking forward to next book from Mr. Daniel (Sept. 2011)
What a surprisingly good read! Yergin writes like a novelist. He effectively narrates the economic growth of the oil industry in an entertaining and conversational style. Highly recommended for gaining historical insights into today's international political arena.
This book is about 1000 pages long, carrying it around gave me a bad back - which is why I deducted a star (it should have been 6 stars). If you want to know about oil go no further.
Tom Schulte
With the tile, including its promised "epic" I expected a wild ride from gushing Spindletop to Red Adair frantically fighting oil fires in Kuwait in the first Gulf War. In this brief (abridged?) audiobook, these and more are touched on, but only briefly. Instead, the evolution of contracts from concessions to more fair division of wealth is more the bulk of this. Much is given over to the Iraq-related conflicts including the epilogue narrated buy the author.
Preston Kutney
I went into this with the full expectation that there was no way all 800-something pages of the book would hold my interest, and that the author would probably slog into some historical-detail boasting to show off how well-researched the book was.

I'm pleased to report that my expectations went unmet.

This has to be one of the most compelling history books I have ever read. Whether the credit should go to Daniel Yergin for his skillful narration and research, or to oil itself, for having such a...more
The Prize is a comprehensive history of the oil industry from inception to the early 1990s (with a short epilogue that covers the period between that period and 2007). Incredibly well researched and detailed, it does an excellent job of summarizing the importance of oil from the impact it had on the manufacturing industry, both world wars and geopolitics today. If there is one weakness it is length: at times it reads like a textbook, making the first 1/3 feel somewhat arduous as it covers minuti...more
Fantastic! A must read for anyone looking for the unbiased facts on the oil history.

What led me to this book was that I wanted to get a better understanding of the oil industry. The fact that I work in the energy field (not oil) and live in Canada where the oil sands (or tar sands if your environmental activist) are a hot topic I felt the need to educate myself on this important resource. So I picked up this book hoping to understand the history, processes and technologies used in the extraction...more
This is a fantastic book if you are interested in the development of the global petroleum industry, shady characters, or geopolitical maneuverings. Yergin is able to make a topic that could easily put you to sleep into an engaging narrative. It's definitely a big picture book that clearly lays out how the world has been influenced by petroleum from the early discoveries in the 1800s to the military conflicts that are ongoing today.

I should note that if you are interested in reading something cr...more
Apr 19, 2010 baggyparagraphs rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to baggyparagraphs by: I met a guy in the Chicago airport who works for Repsol, the Spa
What a terrific work! The first thing is the quality of Yergin's writing. (Funny thing: In nearly 800 pages, I found only two typos--both within a few sentences of each other on p. 708.) This is the comprehensive overview of how politics has intensified the boom and bust cycle of oil's discovery and production. There are terrific biographical sketches of all the major figures: John D. Rockefeller, Ida Tarbell, Calouste Gulbenkian, J. Paul Getty, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, T. Boone Pickens, George...more
Jun 19, 2014 Ilya rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: energy
An 800-page history of oil, the most important commodity in the modern world. Although petroleum was known to the ancients, its modern history began in 1859 in Pennsylvania when it came to be extracted commercially and processed into kerosene for nighttime illumination. When this market started getting saturated, the invention of the internal combustion engine created a new one. John D. Rockefeller monopolized the oil market in the United States, at one point getting the railroads to pay him a...more
Dan Cohen
This is an excellent book and it deserves its reputation. It provides a magnificent overview of the history of oil and the relationship between the oil industry, economics, politics and war. Despite the huge size of the book, I found myself wishing that it had contained a little more. For example, the pen pictures of key individuals whetted the appetite but didn't provide enough for me to build a strong mental image of the participants. I'd also have liked more on the science and technology invo...more
David Lentz
This Pulitzer Prize-winning epic work of non-fiction dives deep into the history of oil exploration beginning with its discovery in Pennsylvania. It draws a portrait of the entrepreneurs who brought maturity, innovation, technology and finance to this burgeoning industry which dominates so much of our economic landscape. It's impressive how much the need for oil to drive weaponry in the national defense of so many nations played such a major role as an impetus for the growth of this business. It...more
An excellent and sometimes dense chronicle of the history of the oil industry: the science, the business, the politics, the wild personalities and tumultuous relationships that have made oil the elixir of economic success and harbinger of conflict. You will never look at the industry the same way again after reading this book. Yergin follows the development of the Middle East and the political environment in the U.S. and other major import nations, and brings to life the miracle of oil, captured...more
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Daniel Yergin is the author of the new bestseller The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World which has been hailed as “a fascinating saga” about the “quest for sustainable resources of energy,” and “the book you must read to understand the future of our economy and our way of life,” not to mention “necessary reading for C.E.O.’s, conservationists, lawmakers, generals, spies,...more
More about Daniel Yergin...
The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy Russia 2010: And What It Means for the World Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State The Global Politics Of Energy

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“Oil men, like producers of other raw materials, could not continue to sell their products below cost...For prices to be raised, production had to be controlled, and to bring production under control, Ickes began with an all-out campaign against the "hot oiler,"...This bootleg oil was secretly siphoned off from pipelines, hidden in camouflaged tanks that were covered with weeds, moved about both in an intrcate network of secret pipelines and by trucks, and then smuggled across state borders at night.” 2 likes
“The author points to the impact of what he called Dutch disease, where the discovery of found wealth from a particular commodity causes a culture to atrophy with respect to work ethic and broader development. Continuing wealth from the single commodity is taken for granted. The government, flush with wealth, is expected to be generous. When the price of that commodity drops, a government which would remain in power dare not cut back on this generosity.” 2 likes
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