Great American Outpost: Dreamers, Mavericks, and the Making of an Oil Frontier

Maya Rao. PublicAffairs, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61039-646-2
Minneapolis Star-Tribune journalist Rao’s debut paints a vivid picture of the rapid development that accompanied the recent oil boom in North Dakota. Beginning in 2012, Rao immersed herself in the Bakken oil boomtown, which she likens to a 21st-century gold rush as “hordes of people flock to this untrammeled terrain to make their fortune.” Her portrait focuses largely on the lives of the people she encountered there: the “pioneers, outcasts... dreamers, do-gooders, failures, drifters, deadbeats” who were drawn to the site from all around the country for its promise of economic prosperity. Rao introduces readers to Danny Witt, a surfer from North Carolina who trucked water and crude along desolate highways to and from the oil fields. She writes of the monotony of his task—much of it “was stop and go, idling and stalling”—and the peculiar rhythms of time spent largely on the road. She also follows Marcus Jundt, a restaurateur who financed four restaurants in town, including the Williston Brewing Company, to serve newcomers and offer respite for the laborers working at the Bakken rigs. Rao poignantly captures the change in atmosphere as the boom turns to bust and local businesses built on the thriving oil community start to go broke. This is a memorable account of the Bakken boom and all that it entailed. (Apr.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated the author had spent seven years in the Bakken oilfield.

Reviewed on: 03/05/2018
Release date: 04/24/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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