cover image Discovery!: The Search for Arabian Oil

Discovery!: The Search for Arabian Oil

Wallace Earle Stegner. Selwa Press, $24.95 (259pp) ISBN 978-0-9701157-4-4

An undistinguished writing professor at Stanford when he was commissioned by the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) in 1955 to write ""an approved history of the oil venture's early days,"" future Pulitzer Prize-winner Stegner (1909-1993) makes a fabulous tale out of what could have been a sterile (or sycophantic) history of the early years of Middle Eastern oil drilling, replete with Texas wildcatters, British nobility, Bedouin raiders and Saudi princes. After initial negotiations between Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud and the Standard Oil Company of California, which had an odd hunch that oil might be found in King Saud's barren, backward land, Stegner chronicles the construction of the first wells (which, strangely, produced disappointing yields), the political and corporate skirmishes (with occasional bombing) that followed, World War II and the end of the ""frontier"" in 1945. Though one wonders at the verisimilitude of the writing (many accounts fit quite neatly into Stegner's world, a folksy blend of Mark Twain and Ogden Nash where ""a breed loud, tough, strong, rowdy, good-natured, and superbly adapted"" safeguard the outposts of civilization), a notable lack of corporate boosterism (which apparently led Aramco to bury it) gives the account a veneer of honesty. Published for the first time in the U.S., this account should prove fascinating for historians, industry insiders and anyone who wants a closer look at the source of their last fill-up. 16 pages of b&w photos.