Oil on the Brain is a smart, surprisingly funny account of the oil industry—the people, economies, and pipelines that bring us petroleum, brilliantly illuminating a world we encounter every day.
Americans buy ten thousand gallons of gasoline a second, without giving it much of a thought. Where does all this gas come from? Lisa Margonelli’s desire to learn took her on a one-hundred thousand mile journey from her local gas station to oil fields half a world away. In search of the truth behind the myths, she wriggled her way into some of the most off-limits places on earth: the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the New York Mercantile Exchange’s crude oil market, oil fields from Venezuela, to Texas, to Chad, and even an Iranian oil platform where the United States fought a forgotten one-day battle.
In a story by turns surreal and alarming, Margonelli meets lonely workers on a Texas drilling rig, an oil analyst who almost gave birth on the NYMEX trading floor, Chadian villagers who are said to wander the oil fields in the guise of lions, a Nigerian warlord who changed the world price of oil with a single cell phone call, and Shanghai bureaucrats who dream of creating a new Detroit.
Deftly piecing together the mammoth economy of oil, Margonelli finds a series of stark warning signs for American drivers.
"Oil on the Brain is hugely enjoyable, compulsively readable, and brilliantly reported. I feared reading a book on oil would be akin to being told 'eat your carrots.' But from page one, Lisa Margonelli made oil into brain candy, and kept it so till the end."
"Lisa Margonelli has a rare and precious talent. She has drawn a wonderfully readable portrait of the fascinating and surprisingly little-known human face of Big Oil."
"Oil on the Brain could be called "The Petro-economy for Dummies"--and especially hardcore dummies like me who insist on being entertained as well as educated. From the corner gas station to the oil fields of Nigeria, there couldn't be a better traveling companion than Margonelli. She's fast, fearless, funny, and a brilliant observer."
“Very few people are smart enough to tackle a subject as complicated as world oil, and of those people, I would wager that not one of them could do it with the humor and crackle and delight that Margonelli brings to bear. If you drive a car, you must read this book, but please not at the same time.”
—Mary Roach, author of Spook and Stiff
"Margonelli's approach is quirky but comprehensive, informal but rigorous: Margonelli has a facility with numbers and an easy way with policy, and the narrative passages here, lightly first-person and often funny, help make accessible the facts of our dependence on oil....Daniel Yergin's magisterial book The Prize remains unsurpassed as a modern history of oil. But Oil on the Brain, kaleidoscopic, accessible and focused on our present quandry, is a timely sequel."
--Ted Conover, The New York Times Book Review
"Oil on the Brain is an original, open-minded look at a subject about which everyone has an opinion."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Filled with rich history, industry anecdotes, and politics, Margonelli's book brings a deeper appreciation of the complicated and often tenuous process that we take for granted every time we fill up our tank."
“[Margonelli’s] approach is quirky but comprehensive, informal but rigorous. . . . [K]aleidoscopic, accessible, and focused on our present quandary.”
–New York Times
–San Francisco Chronicle
“Margonelli invites us to leapfrog the rhetoric, dry statistics, and dire pronouncements about oil in order to truly understand it.”
“An especially welcome addition to literature . . . [Margonelli] gives us witty tales about her misadventures as well as loads of gossipy details.”
“Whether you agree with [Margonelli’s] conclusions or not, they will make you think twice next time you fill your tank.”
–St. Petersburg Times
“A fascinating drive.”
–Atlanta Journal Constitution
“The structure of Margonelli's narrative is unexpected, even daring, as she works backward along the demand-supply chain.”
–St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Margonelli does a masterful job of humanizing [oil’s] passage from underground to pump handle.”