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

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  8,929 ratings  ·  775 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
Paperback, 885 pages
Published 1993 by Free Press (first published January 15th 1991)
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Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Jul 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been thinking of reading Mr. Yergin’s work since it was first published, though its length proved a mighty and consistent deterrent for nearly three decades. It is a long tug, that’s for sure. Mr. Yergin does a superb job with this history of the petroleum industry. I leave this work mindful of the randomness, the chaos in our world. Folks who were at the right place at the right time are today lionized, their names now adorn the entrances to buildings at coveted universities and are affixe ...more
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really great history of the middle east and oil exports. It's so easy to forget how shocking the embargos and the price rises were in the US and how political the issue of oil became here. It's still the case that oil prices are indicators, but they've come under control. I wonder if the cost has been worth it. Sanctions on Iran, buddying up with the Saudis, endless war? Seems like American and Middle Eastern politics would be a lot less heated if we could all find a different way to run our mac ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
An excellent and entertaining book on 150 years history of Oil and its impact on history.
The title is a little misleading, as this is not a book about an epic quest for oil itself, but rather a description of the oil price and what caused the fluctuations. It also gives some insight in the way how the relation between the imperial powers and the oil producing nations changed during time. From having no say about their oil to actually owning the oil revenues and penetrating the Western markets higher and higher up the supply chain. Although the book is outdated (it ends with the firs ...more
Jan 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is 200 years of current events as told by oil. It really is that ambitious. The sheer scale of Yergin's endeavor means that he must move along—whole theaters of war are covered in only a handful of pages, for example. That constant change in subject matter makes it difficult to settle into a flow of reading. It's start-and-stop, constantly adjusting to a new frame, as a new storyline begins every few pages. Still, they're good stories. I had a lot of fun picking my way through. ...more
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nick Black
750 pages of pretty dense prose, originating in Pennsylvania, spanning the globe (you'll come out knowing more than you did going in about venezuela, bahrain, and azerbaijan) and ending on the shiite plains of iraq's central euphrates region in 1991 (an epilogue addresses the period ending in the second gulf war, but is cursory at best). characters of all ethnicity and nomenclature enter, live for a few pages, and then exit, sometimes referred to again fifty pages later. switches from backroom i ...more
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The idea of reading nearly 800 pages about oil might sound daunting and perhaps even boring but this is a history of the world over the past 150 years. All the major events up to our present time have centered around oil. It's such a part of life and so taken for granted that this fact is easy to forget. If we didn't have oil we would have nothing of modernity for good or bad. Yergin focuses on the bigger picture of the history of civilization and how it all ties together around oil. Forget his ...more
Arun Divakar
Jul 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
The measure of success of any democratically elected government in India for a common citizen does not hinge on developmental plans, economic indicators or the advances in diplomacy. It dwells almost singly on the price of a single commodity : oil, the fluctuations of which can wreak havoc on the fiscal management of an average Indian household. Time and again, history has proved that many a voter comes to a conclusion on who to vote for by taking a look at their stance on the price of oil. As a ...more
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Knocked the bastard off. The Prize is a tour de force on the history of oil from the 1850s in Pennsylvania through until the Gulf War in 1991. A Pulitzer winner for non-fiction, the book is undoubtedly well researched and written. However, as with many books on this list, The Prize is defined by its length and density. The upside is that the book is split into five sections which can actually be read in isolation (e.g. if you just wanted to understand the role of oil in WWII). This website has g ...more
Nov 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the Biography of Oil.

This book should be in the reading list of every one who is interested in Politics or Business or History.

You will get detailed insights regarding the following points :-
- How oil was discovered ? Who were the men behind the discovery of Oil ?
- How were all major oil fields discovered ?
- How did all the top Oil Companies come into existence = Standard Oil, Exxon, Mobil, Aramco, Shell, Royal Dutch, etc. ?
- Who was Mr 5% ?
- How and Why Oil defined the course of World
James Giammona
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the top ten books I've ever read! (right up there with Making of the Atomic Bomb by Rhodes).
It gives a sweeping history of the oil industry, great biographical vignettes of hundreds of the main figures and the business and nation competitions that ensued.

Oil is a high-risk, high-reward activity with intrigue, daring, luck, and violence. One of the most lasting takeaways for me was the context it gives to infrastructure and brands (like all the major gasoline companies I'm familiar with)
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book a great deal but I think I respect it even more.

Yergin presents an exhaustive historical, economic and political epic about oil and the people, companies and countries that had significant roles in its development and policies. The writing is clear and approachable and occasionally funny. (I read the kindle version and highlighted many long passages. All of those highlights are publicly available.) (The stinginess of J. Paul Getty was particularly interesting and funny.)

Corban Ford
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A history of Oil, right from its greasy beginnings. Yergin slides through the years and explains how Oil truly oozed its way in to more than a few international conflicts and around more than a few slimy characters. It'll make you think twice before you fill up your car next time.

Actually, no. No it won't.

That just felt like the thing to say.

I regret nothing. Also for what it's worth the book was made into a documentary that feels like it was made in the 1980's. Yes, I watched it alongside readi
Bruno Gremez
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a very insightful research work about the history of oil since its very beginning in places like the US and Azerbaijan in the middle of the 19th century until 1990 (the year when the book was written) when the Middle East takes central stage - again - with Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait and a US-led coalition ousting Iraqi troops out of the Emirate. Throughout many events of the 20th century, Daniel Yergin shows the strategic importance of oil in the world economy and in geopolitics ...more
Jul 04, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Robert Morris
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Shashwat Sharma
Jan 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Okay, so this is not your conventional easy read, but one that's extremely invigorating if you're interested in history. For The Prize underlines the entire history of the past one and a half centuries revolving around the one ultimate Prize - oil. There would hardly be another single book whose pages discuss people from Rockefeller to Kennedy, Roosevelt to George Bush, Stalin to Hitler to Saddam Hussein. Oh, and there's even a line about Moses and Noah's Ark! The sheer scale of the oil industry ...more
Mr Shahabi
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very rich informative book that trace back the trails of War all the way to the lay oil drop, nation rose and fell because of the black gold

It gives a detailed account on the men behind the curtains like Gulbankian (Mr 5%) and many other, but the bottom line is that yeah, the he goddamn imperial capitalistic greed in stealing the wealth of nations is at full exposure

Perry Falsnamo
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Seems bad that he basically doesn’t mention climate change until the epilogue! It was well known in 1990!!
Paul Greenpage
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Superb robin. The history of oil from 1870s to now traces the political-economic history of the 20th Century. Was tracking to 5 stars until about the 1970s, when it got bogged down in the Middle East and wasn't as interesting. WW1 and WW2 a highlight. ...more
Paul Donahue
Nov 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: oil, capitalism, history
Yergin's classic book The Prize surveys a sweeping history of oil, and its storied relationship to War, Geopolitics, and Imperial ambitions. The strengths of the book are its thoroughly detailed accounts of events such as World War II, The Arab Oil Embargo, and the various European/American meddlings in the Middle East region. No other book takes such a comprehensive view of oil's geopolitical history, and at 800 pages this book actually seems short for such a major topic.

On the other hand, ther
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
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
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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

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