Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!” is a well-crafted novel that delves into American capitalism, detailing corrupt Government from local authorities to the Presidency. It also tackles the rise of Communism and Socialism across the globe and especially The United States. The main characters are wonderfully written and a sense of understanding and sympathy is easily developped. The book required me to view the world through different lenses, focusing on private struggles to corporate issues to world war.
The movie is loosely based on the novel to a massive degree. While the movie had me focused on the characters and their development and circumstance; the book focuses on life-styles, political belief, mechanizations of labor and Governments, and so much more. Sinclair details how the working man looks for oil and drills, from digging to derrick. Then he’ll describe the scientific process of refining it, followed by a detailed summary on oil transportation and trade- locally and globally. He describes the poorest classes, prisons, the richest classes, film stardom, and even royalty in such a way that one would think that he had lived multiple lives. The richness of detail he provides reminds of Balzac or Proust.
I’ll admit that the book reads very quickly and is addicitve. Yet it gets to one point where it drags. This minor snag doesn’t take away from the tale as it soon leads to a conflict that winds the story down. Moreover, the book has a more brilliant main character. The movie is centered around oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. Where the book focuses on J. Arnold Ross, Junior- the son of an oil Tycoon. J. Arnold Junior is in constant struggle as we read through his growth from a boy, living a live of extreme luxury and entitled to his father’s dealings. We get a deep look at his father’s life but a book centered on him wouldn’t be as fantastic or interesting. The movie worked because it wasn’t the same character (at all).
But don’t take my word for it. “Oil! ” a novel by Upton Sinclair will leave you a better person, contemplating human behavior and history.