This concise, accessible introduction to the history of oil tells the story of how petroleum has shaped human life since it was first discovered oozing inconspicuously from the soil. For a century, human dependence on petroleum caused little discomfort as we enjoyed the heyday of cheap crude—a glorious episode of energy gluttony that was destined to end. Today, we see the disastrous results in environmental degradation, political instability, and world economic disparity in the waning years of a petroleum-powered civilization—lessons rooted in the finite nature of oil. Considering the nature of oil itself as well as humans’ remarkable relationship with it, Brian C. Black spotlights our modern conundrum and then explores the challenges of our future without oil. It is this essential context, he argues, that will prepare us for our energy transition. Bringing his global perspective and wide-ranging technical knowledge, Black has written an essential contribution to environmental history and the rapidly emerging field of energy history in this sweeping, forward-looking survey.
Brian C. Black, distinguished professor of history and environmental studies and division head of arts and humanities at Penn State Altoona, is the author or editor of several books, including the award-winning Petrolia: The Landscape of America’s First Oil Boom and Gettysburg Contested: 150 Years of Preserving America’s Cherished Landscape. His articles appear in the New York Times, the Conversation, USA Today, Junior Scholastic, and the Christian Science Monitor.
Introduction: Beginning as Black Goo
PART I: CULTURAL EXCHANGE, 1750–1890
Infrastructure: Drilling for Saltwater
1 From Black Goo to Black Gold
2 Crossing Borders to Increase Supply
3 Modeling Big Oil
Infrastructure: Shipping Crude throughout the Globe
PART II: GOING MOBILE, 1890–1960
Infrastructure: Pumping Gas
4 Hitting the Road
5 Marching for Petroleum: Supply and Weapons
Infrastructure: “Want Fries with That?”
PART III: THE GLOBALIZATION OF PETROLEUM DOMINANCE, 1960–PRESENT
Infrastructure: Big Science Helps Big Oil
6 Consuming Cultures
7 To Have and Have Not
Infrastructure: NYMEX and the Commodity of Crude
PART IV: LIVING WITH LIMITS AND ENERGY TRANSITIONS, 1980–PRESENT
Infrastructure: Climate Change Reveals a New World Order
8 “Extreme Oil,” Climate Change, and Geopolitics
Portrait of Addiction: U.S. Petroleum Use
Epilogue: Resource Curse: Time for an Oil Change?
Chronology of Petroleum in World History
Chronology of Spills
Over the past 150 years, oil has become a ubiquitous part of modern life. Placing a strong emphasis on oil’s environmental impact, Brian Black explores the many ways oil production and consumption have shaped world history. Wide-ranging and engagingly written, Crude Reality is an indispensable starting point for understanding how the world got to be the way it is today and the forces that are shaping its ongoing evolution.
Brian Black is one of America’s leading historians of energy and the oil industry, and this updated book provides scholars and the general public a splendid guide to those subjects. It is concise, thoroughly researched, wide-ranging in focus, and as relevant to our times as history can be. And it’s good reading all the way!
Crude Reality is a sweeping and accessible survey of how modern industrial societies became ever more dependent on petroleum. A valuable primer for readers wanting to learn more about our petroleum predicament.