Great American Outpost: Book summary and reviews of Great American Outpost by Maya Rao

Great American Outpost

Dreamers, Mavericks, and the Making of an Oil Frontier

by Maya Rao

Great American Outpost by Maya Rao X
Great American Outpost by Maya Rao

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Book Summary

The story of a twenty-first century American frontier - where the free market reigns supreme as profiteers rush to develop a massive new oilfield.

The word was that you could earn $17,000 a month in the Bakken Oilfield of North Dakota. So they flooded in: the profiteers, deadbeats, ex-cons, dreamers, and doers. And so too did Maya Rao, a journalist who embedded herself in the surreal new American frontier.

With an eye for the dark, humorous, and absurd, Rao set out in steel-toed boots to chronicle the largest oil boom since the 1968 discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Businessmen turned up to restart their careers after bankruptcy or fraud allegations from the financial crisis. An ex-con found his niche as a YouTube celebrity exposing the underside of oilfield life. A high-rolling Englishman blew investors' money on $400 shots of cognac as authorities started to catch on that his housing developments were part of a worldwide Ponzi scheme.

Part Barbara Ehrenreich, part Upton Sinclair, this is an on-the-ground narrative of capitalism and industrialization as a rural, insular community transformed into a colony of outsiders hustling for profit-a sobering exploration of twenty-first century America that reads like a frontier novel.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"This is a memorable account of the Bakken boom and all that it entailed." - Publishers Weekly

"A superbly reported book marred only by an occasionally wandering narrative." - Kirkus

"These intriguing real-life accounts will engage readers of history and current affairs. Highly recommended." - Library Journal

"Through Didionesque scenes of the North Dakota boom, Maya Rao evokes America in extremis with glimpses of lives and decisions that are sometimes frightening, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes just nuts." - Gary Sernovitz, author of The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy

"From the upper reaches of North Dakota, Maya Rao extracts a potent metaphor for modern American capitalism. Her bracing dispatch from the Bakken reveals the toll of fracking on everything it touches - from the soil of the Great Plains, to the precarious lives of roughnecks, to the remote communities that became boomtowns full of hustlers, dreamers and opportunists." - Jessica Bruder, author of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century America

"I'm grateful for this stunning work of immersive reportage...Rao shows us stories that visiting reporters would likely miss, and the result is a rich, nuanced book that's a crucial guide to understanding twenty-first century America." - Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

"Maya Rao's description of one of America's biggest rushes of sheer greed ranks right up there with the great books of the California Gold Rush of 1849...This is one of the best books in America about working men and women - and life in the oilfields when the lid blows off." - Humpy Wheeler, retired NASCAR promoter and former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway

"Maya Rao didn't just write about the boomtown life, she lived it capturing the hope and despair of a nation of citizens looking for a break. A gimlet-eyed look at the oil, dust, and, most importantly, the people living on our country's last frontier." - Stephen Rodrick, contributing editor to Rolling Stone

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Author Information

Maya Rao

Maya Rao is a staff writer in the Washington D.C. bureau of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Awl, Philadelphia Inquirer, Longreads, and more.

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