Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Big Book About Oil

Cold weather is back, and just to let us know that winter is still in charge around here, big snow is forecast for late Friday or early Saturday. Time to stay home and read.

Some time ago for pennies I picked up a paperback edition of The Prize by Daniel Yergin, subtitled "The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power," and it satisfies my sometime desire for a popular history about a really big subject. I remember hearing about it when it was new, but if a book is any good, there's no reason you can't read it nearly 20 years after its publication, or more.

The book has the advantage of being divided into short sub-chapters of two or three pages, which makes it easier to read in an environment of sudden and unpredictable distractions. But it has the side effect of making me want to go visit some of the places it mentions as pivotal in the early history of oil production -- such as Titusville, Pennsylvania, where you can buy a Drake Well etched beer stein, or Spindletop.

Considering my Texas upbringing, Spindletop resonates more than Titusville. It's as Texan as the Alamo, longhorns or Wolf Brand Chili (owned by ConAgra now, but never mind). Spindletop came up in Texas history class in the 7th grade, though I'd heard of it before that, even as the subject of a minutes-long oil company commercial aired during the coverage of the Moon landings (by Exxon? Gulf? It was a long time ago, with much potential for misremebering). The commercial included rumbling and roaring and then oil drilling equipment being pushed into the sky by the gusher and then oil men covered with oil, but happy about it.

Another in that series of commercials featured lingering shots of supertankers to the backdrop of an Irish song that included the lyrics, "Sailin' into Bantry Bay, bringin' home the oil." Of course the song's on YouTube. Ah, those pre-Exxon Valdez days, when an oil tanker was just a really big ship.



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