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 cavalcade of characters, including senators, oil magnates, Hollywood film starlets, and a crusading evangelist. Sinclair's glorious 1927 epic endures as one of our most powerful American novels of social injustice.
©1954 David Sinclair; (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Sinclair's 1927 novel did for California's oil industry what The Jungle did for Chicago's meat-packing factories." (Library Journal)
voracious consumer of books and music... dadaist, luftmensch, knight of standards & practices... motto: to be finite is to be fallible...
this book, long out-of-print, has suddenly appeared back in print due to the critical popularity of the movie "there will be blood" -- that this book "needed" a loosely adapted screenplay to re-enter the american consciousness is an irony of Sinclarian proportions... this is a majestic book, filled with the type of realism that makes Sinclair's best works so effective; what in a lesser author's hands would have resulted in didactic diatribe, Sinclair never loses -- and never lets the reader lose -- sympathy with his characters, both positive and negative, due to the realism with which their inner and outer lives are portrayed... the narration is excellent, bringing unobtrusively to the fore, Sinclair's sense of humor, irony, and insightful social criticism... "Oil!" is that rarity amongst books -- a book that is itself a highly satisfying work, but one which -- like Samuel Butler's "Edward Pontifex, or The Way of All Flesh" -- leaves the reader wishing that the book were longer, so well drawn are the book's characters and situations... as a life-long devoted reader of Upton Sinclair, who had not previously had the opportunity to read "Oil!", i would unhesitatingly rank it as amongst Sinclair's very best works, which like so many of Sinclair's novels, leave the reader hungry for more...
Upton Sinclair's fictionalization of the Teapot Dome scandal is timely and engrossing. Here are the sleezy beginnings of big oil interests which have only become more powerful with the decades. Politics and big oil, hand in hand in 1912, hand in hand in 2008.
I saw the movie "There Will Be Blood" with much excitement....and then wondered if I was completely stupid when I was left with the feeling ..."I don't get it". After listening to Oil!, I get it now. The movie left out the whole story. It's a shame too, because this book was as riveting, if not more so, than The Jungle; and if a movie was to really be based off this book it would have to be on the scale of The Godfather, very, very, long. Too bad we lack the cultural attention span for that. Anyway, I read it had been out of print, so I'm glad it's back and I had a chance to "read" it.
A fabulous listen from start to finish. Although the excellent film, "There Will Be Blood" was based on this book it only used a tiny portion of the plot which seems to have a special resonance with the current economic climate. I always liked reading Upton Sinclair but listening was even better. Possibly not a good read for anyone with far right politics though.
This was quite a 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 characters are all engaging and draw you into the roaring 20s oil boom in Southern California. Don't listen to this expecting it to be much like the movie loosely based on it, There Will Be Blood. The movie adaptation was completely different and the story almost unrecognizable compared to the novel (though still good).
The weakness in Oil! (besides Sinclair's socialist pot-stirring) is that it jumps around quite a bit. Most of it takes place in Southern California and focuses on the relationship between Bunny, the idealistic young heir to an oil fortune who becomes a "red sympathizer," and his father, the ruthless oilman who never stops doting on his son despite the fact that he keeps opposing everything his father stands for. But there is also Bunny's childhood friend Paul who comes back from serving overseas in Siberia to preach class struggle, his evangelical brother Eli, a Hollywood star, university student movements, rigged elections, spiritualists, and many other tangential subplots. They all connect somehow to the main plot, but if you like tightly-focused stories, this may be too distracting for you. I like stories with many different (not always related) threads, though, so I enjoyed it. A great historical novel despite the overt political preachiness.
My husband & I share the account. Anything on history is his read. I'm more into fiction/zombie & apocalyptic reads.
The 1st half is excellent and I enjoyed it very much. The second part as Bunny got older was a bit of a drag but overall very enjoyable.
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 baron father and not on the older brother Paul, but on the preacher boy Eli. Basically he fixes everything that is wrong with the book but manages to tell very much the same story but injects nuance and rejects the politics of Sinclair.
And the politics really are the issue and date this book so terribly. We live in a post-communist world and so all the naive ideals of Bunny, all the agonizing contortions of Paul at the end -mimicking the holy-rollers with his own language (Russian) and "shivers" - has been proven to be no better than the capitalism they were fighting against. Communism fell apart because it was just as corrupt as capitalism - capitalism has lasted only because it's managed to "own" so much of the world.
Yet how Sinclair couldn't see that another form of government was just as bad as any other, why he thought the Russians were onto some grand experiment destined to change the world for the better is just beyond me. Why he didn't apply a rational, critical analysis of the Russian system, or even the socialist system that he applies to capitalism is the one (and major) bit of laziness in an otherwise very well researched and thought out book.
Sinclair does do a lot right in this book, however. He knows how the oil business works from the ground (literally) on up to the banks and on to Congress. He understands every handshake between oilman and banker, between every banker and political boss, between every political boss and campaigner, between every campaigner and newsman, between every newsman and socialite ... and so on. No relationship in capitalism is left unexplored and all the ugly, dirty warts are examined. And while the book is horribly outdated concerning communism, that's about the only thing out of place because nearly everything else he talks about here is a problem we still deal with in America.
The biggest issue that hasn't changed since the book was written is the relationship between labor and management. Yes the Unions are nearly all gone thanks to the relationship between church and the republican party (a theme fully explored here in the book written 80 (yes, that's right, 80!) years ago. Yet people are still struggling to make a decent living at the hands of rich big business - today we call them the 1% and the protesters are occupying Wall Street.
And I could go on about what hasn't changed but that brings up an interesting dilemma: things haven't really changed. The system is still pretty much the same and though it hasn't gotten any better, it really hasn't gotten any worse, either. While capitalist watched as communism rose and then fell, they kept on keeping on. Yes there is a helluva lot of inequity, a lot that isn't fair, a lot of good people who should be doing better, a lot of corruption, but it hasn't in the intervening 80 years fallen apart.
Now I'm not apologizing for capitalism, but it is an interesting issue to think about nonetheless because of this book that goes into such detail, drills so far down into the problems, but actually works as a better history lesson looking back on how the world was compared to now than it does as a book trying to tell a story.
And as a book, well, it's not that good. It gets off to a great start but it falls apart at just about the point Anderson stopped adapting it for his brilliant film about greed and at what cost greed takes on a man. First of all the characters are flimsy - they exist just to get to the next journalistic expose masquerading as fiction. Ross Sr., is a nice guy and is all-together too nice to have ever been a successful oilman who can ruthlessly "play the game". Bunny is so thin as to be transparent - he has no personality because Sinclair is too busy writing his as being objective long enough to become a good, pure, and honest socialist of the bright future for mankind and all civilization. Paul exists just for convenience sake and keeps showing up at just the right time to move the story along and teach us how terrible we are to the workers and the Russians.
In fact, Sinclair does a disservice to very important issues by writing such a flimsy book full of preaching and slanted points of view. There Will Be Blood does a far better job of showing us how greed infects a man and ruins his soul and even if that isn't a financially satisfactory comeuppance, it's at least realistic and might actually make a very wealthy man rethink his own life in a more contemplative manner than this book which would just cause a wealthy man to dig into his trenches deeper and fight against the working man harder.
But Sinclair wanted to bring to light EVERY issue and so the book had to suffer between laughable scenes so contrived and silly as to make you laugh between cringes and other scenes which are quite insightful and interesting. And I won't fault Sinclair for at least trying to uncover all the problems because he does expose everything wrong with our system of economics and politics, it's just too bad he couldn't have been more artful about it because he only manages to make the characters he sympathizes with look weak and foolish and naive. In short, he hurts the very cause he believes in and wants to fight for.
This could have been a great book if he trusted his characters, if he didn't lead them around the plot by the nose, if he trusted we the audience to get through to the deeper meaning by digging between the lines. Yet he treats us as uneducated boobs who know no better than to fall for a swindler preacher and don't know any better to take care of ourselves under the thumb of a corporate oppressor.
Yet there is a lot of good going on here in the ideas of the book. Just because it's bad art does not mean the ideas are all bad or what he exposes as corruption is false or invalid. Sinclair knew there was (and still is) great injustice and that our system is far from perfect. In a way his book is as flawed as our system.
I was expecting more of the slap of The Jungle. Oil! took a long time to get moving. That said, it opened up a historical moment that I hadn't looked at, having stopped at Texas Tea of "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Not a gripping tale, but a steady narrative to accompany a steady task like painting the house ...
The central character, Bunny, seemed to me to be more of a narrative tool than a character. Like a Dickensian Oliver, he is held by kid gloves above the dirt and drama of the rise of the oil industry.
No need to listen again. I will remember it because so many of the stories rang true to my own life experiences with human nature.
Bunny's dad was my favorite. Pragmatist.
Despite it's propaganda tone, Oil! enlightens the workers' plight in the first decade of the 20th century and how Communism seemed a viable solution. The story of capitalism at it's worst is told through the eyes of a self-made millionaire oilman's son. Sympathetic to the laborers' mistreatment, Bunny (yes, Bunny) Ross tries to help without betraying his beloved father. The book was written in 1925 which explains the idealization of this brand new idea fresh out of Russia. You see the rise of the labor unions, the corruption at all levels of government, the control of the press but, most fascinating of all, the birth of the oil industry. The book could have easily been titled Greed!. I am not sorry I listened to it however heavy handed it was. I would love to know what the public reaction to it was back then. Given the author's description of the absolute power of those in charge I am surprised it even was published.
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