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Out of Gas

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Out of Gas

The End of the Age Of Oil

W.W. Norton,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Humankind must confront its energy crisis before the oil – and the time – runs out. (Or, do you still have a horse?)

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


Author David Goodstein says the world’s citizens must face the facts: the end of the age of oil is at hand. Those who argue that the world’s oil supply is sufficient for another 30 or 40 years are missing the point, he says, because the economic effects of the oil shortage will begin long before the last drop is pumped from the ground. Goodstein crafted his book for the educated nonscientist, and he does a masterful job of explaining the complex science behind energy supply and production. Goodstein’s prose is neat, clean and straightforward. His explication has a narrative quality that makes it easily readable, and he adroitly avoids oversimplification. Ultimately, the book is limited by science itself: Goodstein admits that science does not yet know the tipping point for the greenhouse effect, and has not yet determined the optimum mix of alternative power technologies. However, he makes it clear that alternative energy development is a matter of pay for it now or pay for it later. strongly recommends this book, especially for realists who sense a lot of long gas lines waiting just around the corner.


Black Gold

When the Persians set siege to Athens in 480 B.C., they shot blazing arrows that had been soaked in oil. For the most part, however, people simply had no use for oil until the past 200 years or so. It sat in the ground, waiting.

In August 1859, a former railroad conductor named Edwin L. Drake drilled the world’s first oil well. He had a pretty good chance of success, given that he drilled at a natural seepage near Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania. Before long, coal-oil refineries began using oil rather than coal. The demand really began to take off in 1861, the year that German entrepreneur Nikolaus Otto invented the first engine that ran on gasoline.

As demand surged, people soon found oil around the globe. Since that time, approximately 50,000 oil fields have been discovered. Is there enough to go around? Any answer to that question must hark back to the 1950s and an important Shell Oil geophysicist named M. King Hubbert.

Hubbert’s Constant

Hubbert made a dour prediction. He said U.S. oil production would peak around 1970, and decline steadily thereafter. His associates weren’t thrilled to receive this news, but he was right. ...

About the Author

David Goodstein has written five previous books. He is vice provost and a professor in the California Institute of Technology’s physics department.

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