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May 2013

Ivy Link

Award-winning Book Explores Evolving Impact of World’s Ecology of Oil

Brian Black

By Dr. Brian C. Black
Penn State Altoona Professor of History and Environmental Studies

My new book, Crude Reality: Petroleum in World History (CR), which was released by Rowman & Littlefield publishers in March 2012, was recently chosen as an “Outstanding Academic Book for 2012” by CHOICE magazine, the leading reviewer of books for libraries. This is particularly gratifying because I specifically targeted for a wide audience, and, evidently, this award ensures that it will be purchased for libraries all over the world.

I wrote CR to provide a concise, accessible introduction to the history of oil in order to demonstrate how petroleum shaped human life since it was first discovered leaking inconspicuously from the soil. Although oil seeped to Earth’s surface—and was even put to use—throughout the world, American ingenuity helped to make it into the modern commodity that would define human life in the 20th century.

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 challenging results of 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. This “crude reality” becomes tragic when we measure our overwhelming reliance on this geological ooze. Considering the nature of oil itself as well as the specifics of humans’ remarkable relationship with it, CR reveals our modern conundrum and then suggests the challenges of our future without oil.

I wrote CR, which is included in the respected Exploring World History series edited by John R. McNeill, Georgetown University, and Jerry Bentley, University of Hawaii, to serve as a supplementary textbook in World History survey classes. And its selection by CHOICE will very likely aid its adoption.

Every year, Choice subject editors single out for recognition the most significant print and electronic works reviewed in Choice during the previous calendar year. Appearing annually in Choice’s January issue, this prestigious list of publications reflects the best in scholarly titles and attracts extraordinary attention from the academic library community. In awarding Outstanding Academic Title status, the editors apply several criteria to reviewed titles:

  • overall excellence in presentation and scholarship
  • importance relative to other literature in the field
  • distinction as a first treatment of a given subject in book or electronic form
  • originality or uniqueness of treatment
  • value to undergraduate students
  • importance in building undergraduate library collections

In the case of human’s energy history, I believe that an accurate look at what petroleum has made possible will also help us to determine what will be our energy path forward. I hope that in some small way CR will contribute to this important discussion.

Learn more about the book at Amazon.com.


Brian C. Black, head of the Division of Arts and Humanities and professor of history and environmental studies 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. He has taught at Penn State Altoona since 2001, and coordinated the four-year program in Environmental Studies. In 2012, Black received the college’s highest research honor, the Outstanding Achievement in Research and Creative Activity Award.