Top critical review
The History of Oil
Reviewed in the United States on May 18, 2014
The Prize is a history of oil starting with the first oil well in Pennsylvania and ending in the 21st century. Yergin writes well when he deals with major world events like the world wars, in which he recounts the role of oil in the military conflicts. The interesting and often eccentric major characters in the oil story are also very well treated in the book as are the histories of the oil companies they built. The story of OPEC and the major personalities that played key roles in its history and its relationship with the oil-importing countries is well told, interesting and informative.
Much less interesting are the minor events that took part on the world stage. For example, Yergin devoted one whole chapter to the social changes that came about in the United States arising from the widespread use of oil. While I understand the need to discuss this, it really didn't require a major chapter in the retelling. The author's pedestrian pace made itself felt when he spent so many pages talking about the rise of motels and highway eateries.
Throughout the book, the author took great pains to impress on his readers the importance of oil. Why anyone with any sense needs to be told this is beyond any rationale. Parts of the book became quite intolerable when Yergin kept pressing this obvious point. I feel it would have been much better if he had left it alone. The history on its own brought the message across very strongly and needed no helping.
Another weak area of the book lay in the non-narrative analyses. For an "expert" on oil, Yergin's analytical attempts to answer the "why" questions lacked profundity and constantly resorted to generalities. For example, on Pages 666-669, the author attempted an in-depth analysis of the reasons that lay behind the panicky rise in oil price after the Iranian Islamic revolution. It amounted pretty much to market forces and panic buying! Why he needed so many pages to say so little is not just mystifying, its repeated occurrence in the book was extremely frustrating to me.
The "new epilogue" (as advertised on the cover) is pretty much useless. Instead of updating the book and bringing it into the new century, the author used the 11 pages to show how relevant his book is and how it has stood up to time. Instead of giving details of new developments in the great story of oil, Yergin makes much effort to remind his readers that he has covered similar events in his book.