San Francisco Bay Guardian – Review of The Tyranny of Oil

By Ben Terrall
San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 2009

In responding to an attack on her book in the Washington Post, Antonia Juhasz explained, “My goal in writing The Tyranny of Oil was to offer an analysis that has been sorely missing in U.S. literature since the 1975 publication of Anthony Sampson’s classic book, The Seven Sisters: an unapologetically and vitally necessary in-depth and serious critique of the current state of the U.S. oil industry which also raises the voices of those not regularly heard on nightly news programs, television commercials, and in books.”

Juhasz succeeds in that aim and then some. The Tyranny of Oil is a tightly-written overview of the rise of Big Oil, from its origins in the 19th century power grabs of John D. Rockefeller and his ilk, to the era of the petroleum megacorporations busily destroying what’s left of our biosphere via oil wars and Godzilla-sized carbon footprints.

The book opens with a section on pioneering investigative journalist Ida Tarbell and her early 20th century crusade against Standard Oil. Tarbell’s expos√© generated public anger at the Standard trust and contributed to legislation which eventually led to Standard Oil’s breakup in 1911. The separate components of the trust were later reconstituted; nonetheless, Juhasz presents the successful grassroots campaign Tarbell helped spark as an instructive example for today’s activists.

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