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

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  8,001 ratings  ·  686 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
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
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.
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 ...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 ...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 ...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 ...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
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
I read this book and the impression it left with me when I read in the 1990s that oil was a crucial but highly problematic resource. I learned that our modern world was deeply dependent on this resource and money and power flow from the control of it. Global Warming was not as prominent an issue but future depletion and geopolitical tensions generated by Oil were obvious even then. This book covers the history of this resource which today still is the main driver of today's geopolitics. Imagine ...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
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)
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 ...more
David Quinn
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.)

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
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
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 ...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
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
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 ...more
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
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
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 ...more
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was extremely long but very good. It's fascinating to see how the world of oil grew from tiny "startups" to a massive monopoly within a generation, and then became one of the most politically important industries. Yergin argues that oil drives everything, and I'm largely convinced.

Oil is also an amazing case study of political economy. What happens when a cartel tries to raise the price of a commodity? What happens when a government tries to protect local producers, but also help the
Kumar Ayush
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very voluminous, that makes me happy. I am usually fed up with modern books with large margins and font size and fewer pages. This was the opposite in all those criteria.

A dramatic and glueing narrative of oil. It starts with its discovery and ends in about 1991. It leaves me wanting for more. I have started reading and understanding news about two years ago, so I feel like a sucker for the narrative being extended till today. The most exciting thriller drama you could read. Reality is better
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-nonfiction
This book is staggering. It's up there with "Team of Rivals" by Kearns Goodwin as a book where I can't fathom how one author assembled so much information on a topic. There are a lot of fascinating things in here about the history of oil, and more particularly, the oil industry. Some highlights:

- What made oil so difficult to acquire in the early years that whaling (literally: going to the arctic in a wooden boat, spearing a whale, dragging it onto the ship, and boiling its head) was a more
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This magnum opus reads like Game of Thrones albeit without the dragons. Detailing the evolution of oil's role in world politics and warfare, The Prize lays bare the entirety of the human psyche. Illuminating the inevitable, terrible interplay between tyrannical governments and dictatorships, multi-national oil corporations and the end user that keeps the industry churning and the industrial world at large, thriving. The indispensable role that oil has enjoyed over the past 150 years allows the ...more
Daniel Frank
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Prize is a commanding masterpiece; a true tour de force of knowledge.

Simply put, geopolitics matters much more than almost everyone thinks and oil was historically at the centre of this. This book, while weaving a compelling and engaging narrative, makes the reader acutely aware how much geopolitics matters.

While this book easily deserves 5 stars, it suffers from two potential problems.
1. I think was slightly overwritten and could have been shorter.

2. While The Prize is incredibly
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
A excellent tome on the history of oil, from its discovery in the mid-1800s in the US to the 1990 Gulf War. It can be a bit of a slog to read at times, especially in the beginning parts of the book, and especially if you don't already have a certain level of knowledge about world history, geopolitics, and the oil industry, or practice reading lengthy history books. But nonetheless, this is about as colorful and enjoyable a book as there probably can be that tries to lay out the entire history of ...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
“A wise old owl lived in an oak, The more he saw the less he spoke, The less he spoke, the more he heard, Why aren’t we all like that old bird?” 22 likes
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