Ralph's Reviews > Oil!

Oil! by Upton Sinclair
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Sep 26, 08

Read in September, 2008

I didn't see the movie. And I had low expectations for Sinclair's work, as he's regarded as prolix and melodramatic, but this is good, surprisingly good--absorbing enough to make me ignore my surroundings and nearly miss my train stop.

While I'm only a third of the way into the book, it is something of a War and Peace set in Southern California. It's the story of Bunny Ross, a boy who follows his father, J. Andrew Ross, one of the more successful independent oil men, a self made man. Their lives are intertwined with the Wyatt family, a family of fundamentalist sheepherders, whose black sheep, Paul, is a freethinking pro-worker that Bunny idolizes. Like War and Peace, the characters' lives are shaped by forces beyond their control, such as war, revolution and unions. And like Tolstoy, Sinclair strives to make every decision and thought of his protagonist over the length of his life, open to the readers. Yes, Sinclair strives to advance his thoughts on socialism, but I didn't find it anymore overbearing than Tolstoy's interpretation of the invasion of Russia and Tolstoy's not so subtle push for finding God.

Edit: I've since seen the movie. I can see that seeing it would detract from reading, as the movie's adaption is a very different beast.

Now that I have finished reading the book, I have to deduct a star. It's a good book. It was a great book, but it is about 100 pages too long. It does turn into a bit of an unrealistic, full-throated discussion about communism vs. socialism. Since neither have relevance in the US today, it's an unfortunate turn in the book. Still, there are a lot of things that make this story contemporary, and I'm still struck by how little some things have changed from the 20s.
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Evan This is a great review. It's a more succinct way of explaining what I attempted to do in my own - which, like Oil! was too long. Good comparison to Tolstoy.


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