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Oil!

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  4,944 ratings  ·  585 reviews
As he did so masterfully in The Jungle, Pulitzer Prize—winning author Upton Sinclair interweaves social criticism with human tragedy to create an unforgettable portrait of Southern California's early oil industry. Enraged by the oil scandals of the Harding administration in the 1920s, Sinclair tells a gripping tale of avarice, corruption, and class warfare, featuring a cav ...more
Paperback, 548 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1926)
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3.69  · 
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 ·  4,944 ratings  ·  585 reviews


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Bob
Dec 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Oil! is one of my favorite American novels, because Sinclair was fascinated and bewildered by the beginnings of mass-consumer culture here in the U.S., and his descriptions here of oil rigs, cars, radios, jazz music, and Hollywood are very perceptive and eye-opening. Sinclair knew that we were losing something of ourselves as we bought into high convenience--but at the same time he loved driving fast on the newly paved hills of Southern California. The opening chapter is a tour-de-force descript ...more
Jason Koivu
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Oil! is not The Jungle, but it's damn close. In keeping with the politically-minded storyteller's way of using a fictional narrative to drive home a point, Sinclair has this time chosen a California oil baron and his idealistic son as the vehicles with which to air his own beliefs about corporate corruption and greed. Being a dutiful journalist, Sinclair does his best to show both sides of the story, giving examples of how big business doesn't only rape the land, but also keeps the common man em ...more
Mark
Upton Sinclair drank my milkshake....he drank it up! I thought I was going to read a book about the oil industry in California circa 1920 but ended up with a book about World Communism. Oh well, at least it was interesting.
Evan
Feb 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Like many of the other reviewers here I also read this book after seeing There Will Be Blood. Enough has been said about the differences between the novel and the film, so there's no need for me to chime in on that topic.

Sinclair definitely knows how to tell a story. The opening pages narrating Bunny's and "Dad's" high-speed drive through the hills of California en route to an oil lease signing, grabbed me and kept me turning the pages. It wasn't until about half to three quarters of the way thr
...more
kesseljunkie
Mar 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
Sinclair wrote with the fervent energy of a true believer, but the entire time I read the book, I approached it with the perspective of history in mind. History has basically shown Sinclair, and those who subscribed to his idealistic view of the "workers", to be wrong. The camps that he describes for (basically) a good Socialist society at the end of the book were tried, with great success. The problem is, the Nazis and Stalin were the ones that pulled it off.

This book was written in 1927 and h
...more
Eric
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
'There Will Be Blood' is LOOSELY based on this book; that is to say there is oil drilling in each and there's a creepy charlatan for a religious leader, but that's about it. The first half of this book was excellent and gives a real explanation of how oil drilling worked at the turn of the century. The second half of the book is really about socialism, as the main character (the son of the 'oil man') struggles between the greedy wealth of his father and his belief in worker's rights. I found the ...more
Ralph
Jun 05, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Annie
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know, I didn't love this one as much as Sinclair's The Jungle. Perhaps because I think so incredibly highly of The Jungle, my expectations for this one were a little unrealistic.

Let me put it this way. In job interviews when I'm asked to name a hero, I always list Upton Sinclair and Rachel Carson, because they both manage to be artful, moving, emotional artists, while also writing with an iron pen and changing the world with words on a page.

But here, the characters are not quite so compell
...more
Greg
Nov 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall a pretty interesting book, focused on the period of American history from the outbreak of World War I to the end of the Harding administration, particularly in relation to the Red Scare and the labor movement. Sinclair's ideological slant, though at times painfully naive, does lend freshness; when the characters encounter actual historical events, they aren't the usual ones. His characters rarely rise above the level of propaganda, but Sinclair has a gift for storytelling that makes the ...more
GoldGato
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer, fiction
Upton Sinclair became famous for his muckraking or reform-minded journalism, but while most folks scramble for The Jungle, I prefer this drilling look at the nascent petroleum industry of California. The movie, There Will Be Blood was based upon this novel, although this was originally published in the 1920s.

The Roaring Twenties...think President Warren Harding and the Teapot Dome Scandal. A nation starts to move away from farms and the simple life as greed takes center place. If you've ever dri
...more
Christopher
Dec 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, classics
This is a wonderful book on corruption and graft in the oil business and government of the early 20th century that is almost ruined a horrible ending. Before chapter XVIII, the book is great as we follow the main character, "Bunny" Ross, Jr., as he learns about the oil business and all of its corruption first hand from his father. We see Bunny struggle to convey truth to power, so to speak, and to stay good and honest in a world that is revealed to be more corrupt than the oil business itself. T ...more
Elliott
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I found this book a great pleasure to read-Sinclair's writing style still holds up very nicely, but it's the story that's most enthralling to me: not the story of the oil business, or a parent becoming a millionaire, but rather the one of becoming politically conscious. I identified very much with Bunny, and Paul of the book. I was raised in a politically soft left/centrist family (though for what's considered "liberal" in this country that's not saying much). In any instance I too underwent my ...more
Jay Hill
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished this, which was supposed to be the basis for the movie There Will be Blood. To claim that is like believing Sarah Palin consulted Nancy Pelosi concerning her political career. Just didn't happen. Book is much better and explores the social, economic and political struggles in early 1920s America. Think The Jungle only about the development of big oil. Wonderful characters.
Malum
Jun 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
First of all, if you come to this book because you liked the movie version (There Will be Blood), you will be disappointed to learn that they are have nothing to do with each other. I really mean it: absolutely nothing. Different plot, different characters, totally different stories.

As for the book itself, I liked it well enough. I liked the first quarter better than the rest, when Bunny was a kid just hanging out with his dad and finding wonder in everything around him. As Bunny grows up and t
...more
Jim
Dec 23, 2009 rated it it was ok
This review is based on 3/4 of the book. As much as I tried, I just could not force myself to finish it. Upton Sinclair is a fantastic storyteller and the first half of the book is great. His opening scene of driving through So Cal is excellent. He has a nice mix of descriptive prose, humor and a keen eye for things. If you've seen the movie "There Will Be Blood", its nothing like the book. I don't know how it can even be said the movie is based on it.

Sinclair was also a flaming communist and u
...more
Paul Shirley
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Few books have had on me the intellectual impact of Sinclair's "The Jungle," so it was with trepidation that I approached "Oil!"

Why trepidation? Because I was afraid that it wouldn't be as good, and that Sinclair's god-like status in my brain would be jeopardized.

I was wrong to worry.

It's true that I'm only giving "Oil!" four stars, but that's only because there were times in the book when I noticed that the writing leaned so heavily on description (instead of action) as to be a little repetitiv
...more
Todd
Dec 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: oil men
After the incredible experience of THERE WILL BE BLOOD, I had to read the inspiration for the movie. It's no less compelling, fascinating, nor epic. It's also completely different from the movie it "inspired" in terms of plot. "Oil!" is more political, more historical, more satirical, and best of all, it captures a time and place I knew very little about going into the book (even after seeing the movie twice). Highly recommended reading.
Marc Sims
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are wanting to read the book “There Will Be Blood” is based on, Oil! won’t give you much. There is very, very, very little similarities between the book and the movie. But, alas the book is very good.

I wasn’t aware that Upton Sinclair was the Bernie Sanders of the 1920’s when I started reading this and was surprised how much of the book centered on communism, socialism, and capitalism (again, was expecting something similar to the movie, and hooboy, was it different). The book centers on
...more
Dan
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's no getting around the issue of talking about this book and not mentioning the film There Will Be Blood, so let's just get all that out of the way: they have very little in common and the film is far, far superior to the book.

Anderson, who directed the film, has gone on the record saying he only really adapted about the first 150 pages of the novel before taking the story in his own, darker, more realistic direction. Anderson wisely focused his attention not on the son but on the oil bar
...more
JD
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about capitalism. I would not necessarily recommend - read "The Jungle" instead.
Elizabeth
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oil! gets five stars not because I fully endorse its political message, which ultimately advocates for a type of Socialist workers' utopia, but because it is -- whether right, wrong, or somewhere in between -- a message that deserves hearing and consideration.

It's also disconcerting how closely the world of 1920s California echoes our own -- I often felt as if I were reading about the birth of our current world, from the beginnings of consumer culture to Sinclair's angst over mass communications
...more
Diana Skelton
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Written in 1926, this novel has a strong contemporary resonance. The backdrop to the plot includes oil magnates purchasing the election of Warren Harding to ensure that new oil fields will be awarded to them. US soldiers must remain in Russia long after World War I ends to fight for the financial interests of American businesses. Hollywood blockbusters have the clear ideological goal of defending capitalism against communism. And the invention of radio enables the growth of the first megachurche ...more
David
This was quite a readable (listenable) story for a novel set (and written) in the Twenties. Upton Sinclair was a prolific author who knew how to spin a tale, even while he was trying to expose the evils of capitalism. Sinclair's socialist beliefs are very much in evidence, but don't let that put you off -- he doesn't get up on a soapbox so much that it distracts from the plot (though it's obvious that the plot is there in order to push his agenda), and the setting, the situations, and the charac ...more
Martin McClellan
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tremendously fun read, mostly due to Sinclair's relaxed, precise cadence. His sense of language is impeccable, and he turns a phrase with marvelous acuity. Not as thick or impenetrable as victorian prose, but certainly not as terse as the twentieth century literature proved out.

His description of flapper culture, and the world of the West Coast Gatsby, was fun and unexpectedly rich. And for a socialist screed, there is an awful lot of non-villifying of capitalism. HIs theory seemed to be to t
...more
Suzanne Zeitouni
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
Oil! Is a manifesto for a socialist society and Sinclair’s struggle to bring awareness to the corrupt oil industry during the period of the early 20’s. Initially, self published and banned for a variety of reasons, it’s less a novel with fully realized characters than an allegorical illustration of interconnected events and ideals. Sinclair is definitely on a soap box and spends an inordinate amount of time explaining himself and his ideas about what he viewed as the inherent rot of capitalism. ...more
Joe Strnad
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Oil felt long winded to me - at times it was a chore to read. I'm interested in politics and this era of US history, so I wanted to like it more. But, Sinclair is rather preachy here: capitalists are evil, Leninist-communists are too extreme, Socialism is just right. Sinclair's bias shines through, over simplifying economics and politics. His dialogue feels wooden too. I've read other authors from the 1920s-'30s (Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Sinclair Lewis) their pacing, character development and dia ...more
Maureen
Bunny is the hero of this book, of course, whereas Daniel Plainview, aka DDL is the hero of the film. That makes them entirely separate works only meagerly attached to each other, IMO. Bunny is a fucking sweethearted idiot though, and the fact that it takes him the better part of his life to come to and realize that an “evil power roams the earth, crippling the bodies of men and women, and luring the nations to destruction by visions of unearned wealth, and the opportunity to enslave and exploit ...more
Michael
this is a rec from a friend who reads crime. this is an unusual book- i will not damn with faint praise, i cannot call it naive, as if i know better, or innocent, as it does know suffering, but maybe the term is... earnest. there is no irony, no parody, no superior attitude...

it makes me think of other work from the same era, classics such as hemingway or f scott, and arguments about art and propaganda, about false consciousness, about this entire unremarked history of the american body politic
...more
Michelle
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is not "There Will Be Blood," although Oil! is the (very, very loose) base for the film. I enjoyed the film, and looked forward to meeting its muse. While the film is a chronicle of the descent of a greed stricken man into madness and depravity, the book is almost Fitzgerald-esque, focusing on the oil man's idealistic son, Bunny, as he flits through life, both feeling responsible for the working man's plight and enjoying the fruits of his father's labor. I wish I had known the difference be ...more
Larry Bassett
This is a fascinating story that purports to tell how some people gained immense wealth as a result of the oil boom in Southern California in the early 20th century. It is during a time of bloody union organizing And when the eyes of the world were focused on the upheaval in Russia. The main character is a young man torn between his love and admiration of his father a self-made man become wealthy and his own growing idealism about a better world where wealth is more widely spread.

As a person wit
...more
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Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. was an American author who wrote close to one hundred books in many genres. He achieved popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, acquiring particular fame for his classic muckraking novel, The Jungle (1906). To gather information for the novel, Sinclair spent seven weeks undercover working in the meat packing plants of Chicago. These direct experiences expos ...more
“Dad, as a good American, believed his newspapers.” 15 likes
“It appeared as if the whole world was one elaborate system, opposed to justice and kindness, and set to making cruelty and pain.” 8 likes
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