Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Oil: A Beginner's Guide” as Want to Read:
Oil: A Beginner's Guide
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Oil: A Beginner's Guide

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  238 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Packed with fascinating facts and insight, this book will fuel dinner party debate, and provide readers with the science and politics behind the world’s most controversial resource. Without oil, there would be no globalisation, no plastic, little transport, and a global political landscape that few would recognise. It is the lifeblood of the modern world, and humanity’s de ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 27th 2008 by Oneworld Publications (first published February 1st 2008)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Rating details
Sort: Default
Peter Mcloughlin
Gives and economic history and science of the Oil industry. Talks about how oil is formed how it is sought out drilled, its impact on the larger society (modernity, as we know it, wouldn't exist), Major oil fields and history of the business and geopolitics surrounding. It is short and doesn't cover the politics end as much as say books like the prize but on the other hand covers more of the science of the oil business.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Oil: A Beginner's Guide. Title says it all, really.

One idea I encountered here was the link between energy and civilization, which you'd think would have been obvious to me. I guess I never really thought about how much we need energy to do nearly everything. To some extent, we can think of this link as easily as this: where do we get free time? Smil points out that "all traditional agricultures were highly labor-intensive, commonly employing in excess of 80% of all labor." But now we can commut
Dallas Schiegg
Nov 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
Unreadable! What a mess. By profession I am an organic chemist (ret), and still I find this book incomprehensible. I leafed through it and was encouraged when I saw structural formulas. Not the way I would have drawn them, but that's OK. Then I read the permanent chapter. What a mess! The section on economics and geology are equally befuddling.

I ordered this book after reading a glowing review of Smil's work and an engaging personal interview in in WIRED. Guy sounds like a genius. How could he h
Johnny Malloy
Dec 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Very fact dense, almost more like reference material at times with not a lot of organized narrative. Listening on audio was difficult at times, for example as the author catalogs every major oil field on the planet. But overall I came away with a much more thorough appreciation for the general ubiquity of oil, it's pricing, as well as an understanding why peak oil scares are unfounded. Would have liked a larger exploration of the political environment around oil, which Smil does get into but onl ...more
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: energy
Non-peak, non-climate, and yet missing oil's essence

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the comp
Angus Woodward
Jul 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Full of details about the history, uses, extraction, and refining of petroleum. Semi-technical, mostly objective.
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This little book has a tremendous amount of detail about finding, transporting and refining oil. Smil says the transition to a post-carbon future will be a protracted process that, while difficult and disruptive, can be achieved without economic turmoil. This happened with the shift from biomass to coal and from coal to oil. We are now going through a transition from reliance on oil to increased use of natural gas, a bridge fuel to non-carbon renewables. Smil says the peak-oilers are completely ...more
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
An utterly engrossing primer in the business of oil, right from its formation to its exploration and extraction
Joshy Joshi
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
At times quite dull and felt as if the writer was running out of ways to repeat similar statistics in interesting ways which is understandable in a non-fiction. Informative if nothing else.
Jonathan Perez
Dec 24, 2015 rated it liked it
For dinner table conversations. In late 2015 I started researching the commodity sector, after the rout. While looking at some companies, I looked for a book with actual teachings on energy. This one was quite dry, but I picked up a few interesting facts that we know from wikipedia but are worth remembering.

On world oil reserves
Most of today and future oil reserves are held by the four largest nationalised companies in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait. Together they own 50 % of world proven r
Dec 28, 2016 rated it liked it
When I started reading this book, it kicked off with a comparison of gasoline consumption between American SUVs and little Japanese rattle traps, completely omitting that the Americans also make small, fuel-efficient cars and the Japanese also make Godzilla-sized SUVs. So I suspected that the book would be the usual, run of the mill leftist sackcloth-and-ashes enviro-Nazi tome about the evils of oil, with only the lightest scientific content to back it up.
I was wrong. Firstly, the author is very
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Oil is an informative and well researched primer on various aspects of the oil value chain though, admittedly, its a bit of a dry read.

The author touches upon the history of oil, the usage of different forms of oil/hydrocarbons in various aspects of our lives, the bio-chemistry of various fractions, the processes for exploring/ drilling, the availability, the pricing of oil and the private-public enterprises responsible for it. He also skilfully highlights the associated geological, socio-econo
Matthew Talbert
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. There are a lot of facts, but separated with just enough prose to make it not too dense. This is a great introduction to the oil industry, and I think it should be read by anyone in politics. It would also be great for anyone in environmentalism, as it is a good reminder of the importance of the oil industry and could help deal with the environmental issues more pragmatically.
Jul 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
My first Vaclav Smil book.
It's like a textbook for the information hungry, or like a massive wikipedia entry with much more relevant information :)

Topics I liked:
The concept of peak oil, and the evolution of past forecasts
Oil price movements and how recency bias has made us think that $100 is here to stay
The technicalities of how reservoirs work, and how drilling and refining is done.
How he clearly did not see the rapid ascent of the fracking boom.

Fun book.
Linas Jakaitis
Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was my first introduction to Vaclav Smil - and what can I say - this author is just terrific. Explanations based on scientific facts and evidence, easily comprehensible for any level reader. The book was quite interesting, although I will need to recover from influx of numbers that were present in these chapters.
Garret Seinen
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very informative and largely free of any 'green' bias despite the author's belief that we need to consider seriously, moving from oil dependence. He supports the idea that CO2, produced by man, is heating the planet but not as catastrophically as the claim by Al Gore.
Jim Duncan
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive review of the topic from multiple different perspectives - where it comes from, how it is found, why "light, sweet crude" is valued, pricing policies and the notion that the sky won't fall with "peak oil".
B. Rule
I had to give up on this one, short as it is. It reads like a report from a trade association. I couldn't force myself through it.
Jonathan Hobson
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Covers a lot of info but often presupposes a lot of background knowledge
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
dry but interesting at the same time; learned a lot about oil and the oil industry; be prepared to have your phone next to you to look up relevant info
Mar 10, 2011 rated it liked it
It's supposed to be a beginner's guide but this book assumes you have a fair amount of technical knowledge of the oil industry, geology, etc. Still, it offers a number of insights.
Aug 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I know it's about oil.. But it was incredibly well written, insightful and really damn scary. You should probably read Oil.
Aug 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Very informative overall. Filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge.
Jan 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Good overview over the history of oil: production, extraction, transport, economics, technologies.
Steven Stechschulte
rated it really liked it
Dec 31, 2014
Emil Gigov
rated it liked it
Jul 17, 2016
rated it really liked it
Dec 30, 2011
rated it it was amazing
Dec 20, 2015
rated it really liked it
Sep 04, 2018
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia
  • Why Does College Cost So Much?
  • Geek Nation
  • Eruptions That Shook The World
  • Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations
  • Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics
  • The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update
  • Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power
  • 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World
  • Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities
  • Oil: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century
  • Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
  • The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea
  • The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future
  • Air: The Restless Shaper of the World
  • The Stem Cell Hope: How Stem Cell Medicine Can Change Our Lives
  • Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy
  • Here Be Dragons: How the Study of Animal and Plant Distributions Revolutionized Our Views of Life and Earth

Vaclav Smil does interdisciplinary research in the fields of energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy.

He has published 35 books and more than 400 papers on these topics. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Science Academy), and the