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The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown

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A vivid window into the world of working class men and the value of hard labor, set during the Bakken fracking boom in North Dakota Shiftless and unsatisfied in his life, Michael Patrick Smith decided in his mid-thirties to seek out the hardest work he could find, to see if he could do it. He wanted to be a person, unlike his father, who knew how to work and get things A vivid window into the world of working class men and the value of hard labor, set during the Bakken fracking boom in North Dakota Shiftless and unsatisfied in his life, Michael Patrick Smith decided in his mid-thirties to seek out the hardest work he could find, to see if he could do it. He wanted to be a person, unlike his father, who knew how to work and get things done. He found himself in the oil fields of North Dakota during the Bakken fracking boom of 2013, where he spent a year as a swamper, assisting the truck drivers who hauled oil rigs from one site to another. The Good Hand is a saga of fear, danger, exhaustion, suffering, loneliness, and grit that explores the struggles and rewards of one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. In doing so, the story delves into the internal struggles of people who seem naturally drawn to hard work and hard luck--the rough-hewn, castoff, disposable men who populate boomtowns. As an oil field greenhorn, Smith finds the job is a continual battle; men are mocked and clobbered by equipment. But he comes to love the intensity and camaraderie, forming close bonds with a number of fellow workers, including Huck, an aw-shucks friendly young giant of a man who is constantly getting into trouble with the law, and "The Wildebeest," a truck driver in his fifties who initially torments Smith but later becomes instrumental in helping him to become "a good hand." Smith also examines his troubled relationship with his father--a trait that most of his coworkers seem to share--and draws fascinating parallels between his labor as an oil field hand and his previous careers in theatre and folk music. The Good Hand is ultimately a book about transformation--a classic American story about submitting to something elemental and larger than oneself. Smith discovers that the communities forged by hard work can awaken both the heart and the hands.


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A vivid window into the world of working class men and the value of hard labor, set during the Bakken fracking boom in North Dakota Shiftless and unsatisfied in his life, Michael Patrick Smith decided in his mid-thirties to seek out the hardest work he could find, to see if he could do it. He wanted to be a person, unlike his father, who knew how to work and get things A vivid window into the world of working class men and the value of hard labor, set during the Bakken fracking boom in North Dakota Shiftless and unsatisfied in his life, Michael Patrick Smith decided in his mid-thirties to seek out the hardest work he could find, to see if he could do it. He wanted to be a person, unlike his father, who knew how to work and get things done. He found himself in the oil fields of North Dakota during the Bakken fracking boom of 2013, where he spent a year as a swamper, assisting the truck drivers who hauled oil rigs from one site to another. The Good Hand is a saga of fear, danger, exhaustion, suffering, loneliness, and grit that explores the struggles and rewards of one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. In doing so, the story delves into the internal struggles of people who seem naturally drawn to hard work and hard luck--the rough-hewn, castoff, disposable men who populate boomtowns. As an oil field greenhorn, Smith finds the job is a continual battle; men are mocked and clobbered by equipment. But he comes to love the intensity and camaraderie, forming close bonds with a number of fellow workers, including Huck, an aw-shucks friendly young giant of a man who is constantly getting into trouble with the law, and "The Wildebeest," a truck driver in his fifties who initially torments Smith but later becomes instrumental in helping him to become "a good hand." Smith also examines his troubled relationship with his father--a trait that most of his coworkers seem to share--and draws fascinating parallels between his labor as an oil field hand and his previous careers in theatre and folk music. The Good Hand is ultimately a book about transformation--a classic American story about submitting to something elemental and larger than oneself. Smith discovers that the communities forged by hard work can awaken both the heart and the hands.

30 review for The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    Smith walks a thin line in this memoir. Read it for the informative parts about working in North Dakota and understand that he's not going to take a position on pretty much anything- although a certain aura hangs over some of this. This could have gone sideways easily- it is after all about a Brooklynite in the oil fields - but Smith largely avoids condescending to the people he worked with. He's not shy about what a mess he is (a plus). Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Well written and informat Smith walks a thin line in this memoir. Read it for the informative parts about working in North Dakota and understand that he's not going to take a position on pretty much anything- although a certain aura hangs over some of this. This could have gone sideways easily- it is after all about a Brooklynite in the oil fields - but Smith largely avoids condescending to the people he worked with. He's not shy about what a mess he is (a plus). Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Well written and informative.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jason Scarbrough

    I think that any memoir requires a measure of narcissism on the author’s part. What makes your ordinary life experience so remarkable that others should read about it? Show some creativity and work that out in a fictional piece. In any case, this book was a great read. The writing was good and the author deals honestly with his problems. It provides a micro look at oil field work and boomtown dynamics. In a world where “hero” gets thrown around, Smith shows us people doing their best and, more o I think that any memoir requires a measure of narcissism on the author’s part. What makes your ordinary life experience so remarkable that others should read about it? Show some creativity and work that out in a fictional piece. In any case, this book was a great read. The writing was good and the author deals honestly with his problems. It provides a micro look at oil field work and boomtown dynamics. In a world where “hero” gets thrown around, Smith shows us people doing their best and, more often than not, failing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mooney

    This was a highly enjoyable read, very well written and thought provoking, as well as being pretty wild at times.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mr. Gottshalk

    The oil fields in sparsely populated western North Dakota have piqued my interest for a whole, and this 450-page personal account is loaded with the kind of details I’d expected. It’s also chock-filled with the personal stories about the author’s relationships of all the rough-and-tumble characters (sometimes difficult to keep track of, I thought. I have as entertained, and looked forward to reading it in the evenings over the past week...hence, 4-stars!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rita Platt

    Easily one of my favorite memoirs of the last decade. By turns funny, sweet, terrifying, and head-scratchingly weird, it is ALWAYS interesting. I listened to this one on Audible and the author (who I am now a little in love with, but just a little) read it himself. He peppers the reading with the sweet sounds of his guitar and even sings the listener a song or two. I think I would have loved it if I had read it too, but hearing him, was a gift. Magic Mike and his band of merry buddies will take Easily one of my favorite memoirs of the last decade. By turns funny, sweet, terrifying, and head-scratchingly weird, it is ALWAYS interesting. I listened to this one on Audible and the author (who I am now a little in love with, but just a little) read it himself. He peppers the reading with the sweet sounds of his guitar and even sings the listener a song or two. I think I would have loved it if I had read it too, but hearing him, was a gift. Magic Mike and his band of merry buddies will take you with him on an adventure that you really don't want to miss. Amazing storytelling and some really good food for thought too. I laughed a lot and a cried a little too. Totally great.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Marika

    Author Michael Patrick Smith writes about the fascinating life of working on an oil field in North Dakota. Fascinating in that most of us will never experience the live of working 14 -18 hours a day, living in flop houses, and despite that never getting out of poverty. It's a glimpse of gritty boom town workers and how there is no glamour in this life, despite what social media would want us to believe. Similar to "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Ear Author Michael Patrick Smith writes about the fascinating life of working on an oil field in North Dakota. Fascinating in that most of us will never experience the live of working 14 -18 hours a day, living in flop houses, and despite that never getting out of poverty. It's a glimpse of gritty boom town workers and how there is no glamour in this life, despite what social media would want us to believe. Similar to "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth" by Sarah Smarsh. *I read an advance copy and was not compensated.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    I reviewed this book for High Country News. Here’s the link: https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.3/ideas.... I reviewed this book for High Country News. Here’s the link: https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.3/ideas....

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Definitely gives you a window into that time and place and does a good job combining with memoir of his life. Don't read if you can't handle swear words. Definitely gives you a window into that time and place and does a good job combining with memoir of his life. Don't read if you can't handle swear words.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Greg Flakus

    One helluva great book about life in contemporary America. The author is a folksinger who grew up on a farm back east and ended up living in Brooklyn. He was lured west by the oil boom in North Dakota where he thought he might make some good money and challenge himself as a working man. He ended up making good wages, but he left less than a year later with less cash in his pocket than he had when he arrived. Along the way he went from being a greenhorn to "good hand," a kind of well-rounded, reli One helluva great book about life in contemporary America. The author is a folksinger who grew up on a farm back east and ended up living in Brooklyn. He was lured west by the oil boom in North Dakota where he thought he might make some good money and challenge himself as a working man. He ended up making good wages, but he left less than a year later with less cash in his pocket than he had when he arrived. Along the way he went from being a greenhorn to "good hand," a kind of well-rounded, reliable worker who other workers could count on. One of his biggest challenges was finding a decent place to live, which in Williston, ND in those days might mean a space on the floor in some house where people could flop. Apartment rentals were as high there as they were in New York City or San Francisco. In the flop house he meets other adventurers including some guys from Jamaica and a couple with Tourette's syndrome. On the job with an oil company he meets a variety of characters, some of whom are tough and mean and some of whom are helpful. Almost everyone he meets is colorful and most of them come from broken families, poverty, and crime. Quite a few have spent time in jails and prisons. In the oil fields such things don't matter. Smith's own life provides an additional narrative as he revisits sorrows from the past, including the death of a beloved sibling, his father's abusive episodes, his own struggle to break out of the grip of family trauma and move on with his life. In the book he also tells some of the story of the region where he works. Lewis and Clark, he tells us, spent more time in North Dakota than they did in other part of the country they passed through on their epic journey. Theodore Roosevelt spent time on a ranch there and toughened up before returning back east to enter politics. He gets teased by co-workers who find out that he voted for Obama, almost all working men today being Republicans, whether they vote or not. He tries to steer clear of politics and ends up gaining the respect of a lot of the workers, who call him "Magic Mike." He listens to their stories with sympathy and realizes that they represent a collective wound that is spread across the country. The hard jobs they do are getting harder to find and they are not suited for the digital economy. Many of them that went into the military, he notes, left with PTSD. Many of them came from troubled homes and may have had PTSD even before they hit boot camp. These are hard facts that few reporters ever see. The plight of these men helps to explain why so many working class people supported Trump. One wonderful thing about this book is that he doesn't dwell much on fracking, climate change or the oil companies' political strength. This is not about those issues. You can find plenty on that in other books. The greatness of this book is the close focus on the men and a few women who struggle to get money and find some sense of self worth in one of the most unforgiving areas of the country, supplying the nation with not only oil and gas for fuel and heating, but the chemicals needed for plastics, medicines and fertilizer. As the nation moves away from fossil fuels there will be some losers. Chief among them will be the roughnecks and rowdy, dirt-smeared men who may no longer have a place in the country that has for more than a century relied on them for its prosperity.

  10. 5 out of 5

    DC Allen

    The author's experience in the oilfield closely mirrored my own, right down to the other workers asking me if I'd ever been "fucked by a turtle" on my first day. The entire oil/gas industry is overflowing with performative machismo. Everyone wants to show off how hard they can swing the pipe hammer. Asshole rednecks don't properly train you so they have an excuse to yell at you. There's anxiety of being on location and not having a job to do. Or being stuck at the yard, filling a 12-hour work da The author's experience in the oilfield closely mirrored my own, right down to the other workers asking me if I'd ever been "fucked by a turtle" on my first day. The entire oil/gas industry is overflowing with performative machismo. Everyone wants to show off how hard they can swing the pipe hammer. Asshole rednecks don't properly train you so they have an excuse to yell at you. There's anxiety of being on location and not having a job to do. Or being stuck at the yard, filling a 12-hour work day by washing trucks and sweeping the shop floor. Everyone you meet is consumed with a single-minded obsession with WORK and HOURS. The company men all pay lip service to the god of SAFETY with vague, perfunctory meetings before subjecting you to 100-hour work weeks. Many times I thought, If they care so much about our wellbeing why am I driving a semi truck across three hours of desert with next to no sleep? Another detail that The Good Hand nails is the humor of all the blue collar dumbassery that occurs in the down time. The oilfield is filled with ex-cons, ex-soldiers and covert meth heads, none of whom have much interest in living forever, so you will see and hear some wild antics. Michael Patrick F Smith says he grew to love the work, but I never did. I remember sitting in a truck with four other guys watching Fast Five on a smart phone, and one of them turned to me and said with all sincerity, "Can you believe we get paid to do this?" I'm glad there are people who enjoy the work, but a few months in the oilfield took years off my life. You're not just selling your time, you're selling your health. There were a few differences in my oilfield experience from the book. Everyone the author meets has a nickname (unless he created codenames in order to disguise their identities) whereas I can remember very few guys with nicknames (Puppet, for example. He was a major asshole). Almost everyone in the book is white, but a slight majority of the workers in west Texas were Latino, split between Mexicans and Cubans. I wrote mostly about my own experiences here, rather than this excellent book, but that is because it brought up many memories and emotions that I had completely buried. The oilfield attracts desperate men. Anyway, this is a very good book and it covers a lot more than just long work days in miserable conditions. The audiobook has a bonus of some pretty cool americana and country music.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    This memoir didn't match my expectations. I had expected more descriptions of work in the oil fields. There is some, but it is hardly central, perhaps because most of the work was uninteresting (e.g., unloading trucks). Besides this, though, there is not much description of the people or of the area, I guess because Smith was too busy at his job (and, perhaps, drinking) to explore. We do get many conversations with his landlord. Overall, the book is unfocused and padded, though still readable. > This memoir didn't match my expectations. I had expected more descriptions of work in the oil fields. There is some, but it is hardly central, perhaps because most of the work was uninteresting (e.g., unloading trucks). Besides this, though, there is not much description of the people or of the area, I guess because Smith was too busy at his job (and, perhaps, drinking) to explore. We do get many conversations with his landlord. Overall, the book is unfocused and padded, though still readable. > I let my bones sink into my seat. If Porkchop is a killer , I think, what does that make me? A friend of killers? I like Porkchop. I think he’s great. He helps me. I am coming to rely on him. Some guys kill other guys. It isn’t right, but maybe it isn’t my business, either. Is this completely nuts? Should I confront him somehow? … I struggled with this question even as I enjoyed the company of unabashed bigots and learned to compartmentalize their casual, constant, continuing faucet drip of racism. How terrible is that? Does that make me a bad person? I don’t know. How do you love men you disagree with so violently on the ethical and moral questions that you think define you? Later, the questions I pose will kind of invert themselves, as I turn them toward toward the world. Because how do you not allow yourself to love people you disagree with? Wouldn’t that be a sign of real cowardice?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This is a muddy, manual labor, remote landscape, foul mouthed memoir that I really liked a lot. Smith brings an alchemic talent to describing the numb fingers, swinging cranes, precarious footing, damp boots, hooks, chains and extreme cold that comes with manual labor. He not only writes work scenes with precision but also treats precision itself with reverence: Understanding and doing the job precisely allowed him to triumph over his own softness, ignorance and fear. A negative-38-degree day wa This is a muddy, manual labor, remote landscape, foul mouthed memoir that I really liked a lot. Smith brings an alchemic talent to describing the numb fingers, swinging cranes, precarious footing, damp boots, hooks, chains and extreme cold that comes with manual labor. He not only writes work scenes with precision but also treats precision itself with reverence: Understanding and doing the job precisely allowed him to triumph over his own softness, ignorance and fear. A negative-38-degree day was “one of the best days of my life,” he writes, and it also provides the best chapter in the book. There is a unifying principle in Smith’s depictions: the good hand, from oil-field slang for a worker. “A good hand,” Smith writes, “shows up early. He is present. He listens. A good hand carries the heaviest load every time, takes on the dirtiest, most difficult task and doesn’t complain. A good hand makes the hands around him better.” “No one is a good hand all the time,” Smith qualifies. And that is the essence of his book. It does not recount catharsis or much transformation. It brings instead perspective, on how people, including Smith, can sometimes rise above their worst selves through unglamorous, demanding, difficult work. It's a book about the author's transformation, less a comment on fracking or politics. And it finds dignity and nuance in type of labor, the type of person that does this type of labor most of us consider an invisible cog in a wheel. Nobody I know considers the hands of a drill rig operator as we are standing an the gas pump. So it's a pretty incredible story that I fear nobody will read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael Lipsey

    I really wanted to love this book because I enjoy books about how things work, jobs, industries, business & technology. An inside book by a man who worked in the oil patch in N. Dakota seemed like just my cup of tea. As much of the book that is actually about the work around the wells is fascinating, and I couldn't get enough of those chapters. But much of the book is about his miserable childhood, his alcoholism, instability, etc. And his need to prove himself to his rough co-workers, because h I really wanted to love this book because I enjoy books about how things work, jobs, industries, business & technology. An inside book by a man who worked in the oil patch in N. Dakota seemed like just my cup of tea. As much of the book that is actually about the work around the wells is fascinating, and I couldn't get enough of those chapters. But much of the book is about his miserable childhood, his alcoholism, instability, etc. And his need to prove himself to his rough co-workers, because he came in as a weak, useless, incapable loser. And he does prove himself and make friends, but so what? Having spent my working life in construction, I can only say that war stories told in bars get old fast. There are worlds of people who do hard, difficult and dangerous jobs their entire lives, not just in the oil patch, but in construction, ranching, farming, mining, logging, fishing, factories, railroads, etc. One more book that cried out for an editor. A ruthless editor would have cut all the blather about brotherhood and transformation and given us a fine book about the job of setting up, breaking down, and moving an oil well, and setting it up again in a new location, again and again.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sam Sattler

    I spent most of my working-life in the oil industry. Be it in the U.S. or in some foreign country, I spent my days thinking about oil prices, drilling costs, and where the company would find replacement barrels for whatever volume of oil we would produce and sell that year. I often wondered what the industry must have been like in those early boomtown days during which so many people dreamed of getting rich by discovering black gold on their property - as so many did - but I never expected it to I spent most of my working-life in the oil industry. Be it in the U.S. or in some foreign country, I spent my days thinking about oil prices, drilling costs, and where the company would find replacement barrels for whatever volume of oil we would produce and sell that year. I often wondered what the industry must have been like in those early boomtown days during which so many people dreamed of getting rich by discovering black gold on their property - as so many did - but I never expected it to be like that again. And then, along came the new drilling techniques that made much of North Dakota into something very much like the boomtowns of yesterday. I had to, however, watch from afar instead of being on the ground to see and experience it for myself; that’s why, books like Michael Smith’s The Good Hand fascinate me so much. I’ve read a few books about what happened in North Dakota after the oil companies showed up with what must have seemed to be unlimited amounts of cash to throw around. Some of the books were novels about the horrifying crime problems that resulted, and how the locals dealt with becoming second class citizens in their own hometowns. Smith’s The Good Hand, as its subtitle (A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown) indicates, is a nonfiction look at the mixed curse/blessing that descended on North Dakota when it finally became economical for Big Oil to extract the hard-to-get oil reserves that had been trapped there forever. By the time he arrived, the thirty-something-year-old Smith was a decade older than most of the men with whom he was competing for a limited number of oil field jobs. Smith, who considered himself an actor and musician above all else, came to North Dakota from New York City with $3,000 in his pocket, no job, and no place to live. He knew nothing about the oil industry or how dangerous oil field work is. What he found on the ground was appalling, but to his credit, Smith stuck it out - all the while burning through the cash he came with - until he got a job with a trucking company that moved drilling rigs from one location to the next. That he survived the on-the-job training in pretty much one piece, and that he eventually earned the respect of the experienced field hands is only part of his story. The Good Hand is also the coming-of-age story of a man trying to get that job done before he turns forty. By the time that Smith leaves North Dakota, he is a changed man, a better man than he would have been if not for the experience. But it is rough going, and not everyone that Smith comes to know during his months in the oil patch will fare as well as he does. Some will be terribly injured or even killed, some will succumb to a life of drugs and alcohol abuse, some will end up in jail or prison, and some will just end up spinning their wheels with nothing to show for the effort. Saddest of all, though, is what happens to small-town North Dakota when an army of criminals, sex abusers, prostitutes, and already-broken people descend upon the state in huge numbers. Suddenly in the minority, the locals often get so caught up in the hustle and what they see as their own once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get rich that they end up ruining their lives. Bottom Line: I experienced The Good Hand in its audiobook version. The audiobook is narrated by the author who does a decent enough job of it, but what makes the audio version outstanding is how Smith intersperses his own music and songs throughout his narration. Smith is such a genuinely talented musician, singer, and songwriter that his haunting songs contribute to the mood and tone of the book to such a degree that I ended up listening to the entire book even though I also had a hardcopy in hand. For the best experience with The Good Hand, I think that’s the way to go.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kes

    The author tells his story about working in North Dakota. One of the things he does a good job at contrasting is the life he left behind in New York and the life in North Dakota. He feels close to the earth there: part of extracting the oil that the rest of the world relies on. There are pages about it - his history on a farm, his family history in the military, his inability to join them. There's reflection on what he calls the "father wound" - the absent fathers. There's also observations on so The author tells his story about working in North Dakota. One of the things he does a good job at contrasting is the life he left behind in New York and the life in North Dakota. He feels close to the earth there: part of extracting the oil that the rest of the world relies on. There are pages about it - his history on a farm, his family history in the military, his inability to join them. There's reflection on what he calls the "father wound" - the absent fathers. There's also observations on society: he wonders how the male behaviour he sees demonstrated in turn affects female behaviour. It's a thoughtful book - I enjoyed the friendships that Mike forms. Those friendships do appear rougher than I would expect, and more cussing is involved. But they are genuine. The effect on poverty is also touched upon. There's some mentions of politics - the others are republicans, but Mike doesn't really dwell on the misinformation that they say, just quotes it. There's also one chapter on racism that strikes me: Mike views a room and told that there are two rooms empty. Mike takes one, and as he signs the lease, another couple comes in to view the room. They're black. Without blinking, the landlord lies that the room has just been taken by Mike (despite the second room being available). Mike doesn't say anything - and then reflects that this shows that he's been complicit. It's thought-provoking in its own way: Mike doesn't set out to change the world, just observe it. One odd thing is that some of the cuss words are written out as "fecal matter" but Mike has no qualms saying "shit" partway through the book. I'm not sure if Mike is quoting "fecal matter" verbatim?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nate Hendrix

    I heard the author in the radio and thought his story was interesting and that is how his book got on my reading list. Michael moves to North Dakota to get an oil job as a kind of therapy as a result of having an abusive father and fucked up childhood. This is not me guessing, he makes this clear. His experience working on the oil fields reminded me of my time working as part of a 911 system. New people are not always treated with kindness and patience. There is a fair amount of, I don't want to I heard the author in the radio and thought his story was interesting and that is how his book got on my reading list. Michael moves to North Dakota to get an oil job as a kind of therapy as a result of having an abusive father and fucked up childhood. This is not me guessing, he makes this clear. His experience working on the oil fields reminded me of my time working as part of a 911 system. New people are not always treated with kindness and patience. There is a fair amount of, I don't want to be dramatic and say abuse, but for lack of a better word, abuse. Exclusively verbal. Both jobs can be dangerous and have the potential to get really fucked up very quickly. If you are new, you are going to catch some shit until you figure out the job. When things are going wrong I don't have the time to gently explain exactly what I need done and how to do it. Afterwards I may not be in the right frame of mind to educate you in a way so that you don't feel stupid. That verbal abuse turns into the kind of verbal jousting that builds a comradery that is not found in many lines of work. The other similarity I found is how much you miss the work and forget how really miserable it could make you at the time. This was a great book I heartily recommend it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    The book details the life of a newcomer in the Bakken oil fields of northwestern North Dakota. Thank God I have never had to endure what the author experienced and I don’t mean simply the extreme demands placed upon his body by hard physical labor. Far worse in my estimation is being expected to know how to do the work when no one has explained a thing about it or taught the jargon and then being called every foul name in the book for doing it wrong. Any complaints are met with shut the hell up The book details the life of a newcomer in the Bakken oil fields of northwestern North Dakota. Thank God I have never had to endure what the author experienced and I don’t mean simply the extreme demands placed upon his body by hard physical labor. Far worse in my estimation is being expected to know how to do the work when no one has explained a thing about it or taught the jargon and then being called every foul name in the book for doing it wrong. Any complaints are met with shut the hell up and take it like a real man! The worst thing a worker can do is to put himself or others in danger, but instead of warning the author about the hazards, he is belittled and made the fool afterward. There is nothing civil about the work environment run by men who had to learn the hard way and now, by God, this newbie is going to do it the same way! Personally I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes out there. So thankful I’ve never had to try!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I enjoyed this book so much, mostly because it felt like getting to know someone well: Michael Patrick F Smith. He's the star of his memoir, not because he makes himself the star, but because he's so honest, so human. We see the oilfields through his eyes, we live the experience with him, we feel his empathy for the people he introduces us to. It's real, this is a real book, written by a real person, not overly polished, almost like reading someone's journal, or having a conversation. The writin I enjoyed this book so much, mostly because it felt like getting to know someone well: Michael Patrick F Smith. He's the star of his memoir, not because he makes himself the star, but because he's so honest, so human. We see the oilfields through his eyes, we live the experience with him, we feel his empathy for the people he introduces us to. It's real, this is a real book, written by a real person, not overly polished, almost like reading someone's journal, or having a conversation. The writing isn't fancy, it's like a home cooked meal, straight-forward and nourishing. I'm still recovering from that North Dakota winter I lived though!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Michael Patrick F. Smith wrote the type of book `that is almost good. It has strengths in that it lives up to its title in a near literal sense. It does tell the story of the recent oil boom in North Dakota through the prism of several people who he got to know while working in the field. Where the book comes up short is in putting some context behind Smith and his reasons for going to the fields in the first place. We hear his background story but he does a poor job connecting the dots and putt Michael Patrick F. Smith wrote the type of book `that is almost good. It has strengths in that it lives up to its title in a near literal sense. It does tell the story of the recent oil boom in North Dakota through the prism of several people who he got to know while working in the field. Where the book comes up short is in putting some context behind Smith and his reasons for going to the fields in the first place. We hear his background story but he does a poor job connecting the dots and putting us into the his mind. Not bad, It does offer some insights but more context would have been better.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sherri

    I tried, I put it aside and came back but eventually gave up. To be blunt, I lost interest after the first few chapters. The details of oilfield work, the equipment and dangerous and drudgery of the work was interesting. The short bios and descriptions of the other characters was good. But the stories and events began to repeat and the reader could anticipate what happened next. Having seen similar situations here made it predictable and I stopped reading. I did think about Jack London, how this I tried, I put it aside and came back but eventually gave up. To be blunt, I lost interest after the first few chapters. The details of oilfield work, the equipment and dangerous and drudgery of the work was interesting. The short bios and descriptions of the other characters was good. But the stories and events began to repeat and the reader could anticipate what happened next. Having seen similar situations here made it predictable and I stopped reading. I did think about Jack London, how this was a landscape and place he would have felt at home.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Swartz

    Some good money, lots of pain. Book tells it all. I’m from North Dakota and familiar with the area. My mother in law had a home in Dickinson that had Six bedrooms, three in the basement. She sold it for a excellent price because the person who purchased it wanted to take advantage of all those bedrooms. The book does a good job of informing the reader what life was like for the men and families that came to this area for work .

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    This was much more enjoyable than I would have expected! It's the maddening sorrows and heartbreak of 'Hillbilly Elegy' with the f bombs and hijinks of 'Fear and Loathing' in the Bakken, during the North Dakota oilfield boom years. The author struck a nice middle ground chord on the needs of oil and the needs of the planet, and speaking of chords, if you listen to the audiobook you'll even be treated to some of the author's music. This was much more enjoyable than I would have expected! It's the maddening sorrows and heartbreak of 'Hillbilly Elegy' with the f bombs and hijinks of 'Fear and Loathing' in the Bakken, during the North Dakota oilfield boom years. The author struck a nice middle ground chord on the needs of oil and the needs of the planet, and speaking of chords, if you listen to the audiobook you'll even be treated to some of the author's music.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sanjiv

    Good Memoir set on a Great Landscape The book was well researched and well written. At times it feels like a forced backdrop for his rough childhood. At other times it feels like a series of crazy stories that aptly convey the characters you meet in the oilfield. Finally it is an homage to the never quit attitude of the dwindling number of hardworking men and women who built America.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nancy J. Lach

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading and learning from this book! I lived in ND during the boom, but in a city 227 miles away. ND was so short on housing that people actually made the commute from here! This is a well written book, but not for the faint of heart due to language and situations. I found it realistic though and not offensive. I wish it included a few basic diagrams so I could understand the vehicles he described better. A good read! I’d give it 4.5 stars if I could!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert Lee

    A good read, but a bit deep. As a former oil field hand, I enjoyed this book. I worked in the patch for about 20 years, starting as a roustabout,and finishing as a drilling and production foreman. I worked through the boom and bust in Oklahoma in the 80's, and there are a lot of similarities to this book. I enjoyed the book, and the stories, but it was a bit deep for me. However, it is well written and a good read. A good read, but a bit deep. As a former oil field hand, I enjoyed this book. I worked in the patch for about 20 years, starting as a roustabout,and finishing as a drilling and production foreman. I worked through the boom and bust in Oklahoma in the 80's, and there are a lot of similarities to this book. I enjoyed the book, and the stories, but it was a bit deep for me. However, it is well written and a good read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fawn

    Great read that tells the story of a work life that not many of us could survive (I would be laughed out of that place if I even tried to apply for any sort of job). The author also weaves his own personal reflections and work that he’s doing to heal the ‘father wound’ that many of us carry. I sure hope he has

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris Hammer

    I can't recommend this book enough to understand some of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the oil boom at the Bakken oil field on the Williston, ND area. But what continues to stay with me are the stories about the abhorrent behavior of some of the author's acquaintances and friends, from his 'good hand' days, towards women. Very impressed with the author, though! I can't recommend this book enough to understand some of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the oil boom at the Bakken oil field on the Williston, ND area. But what continues to stay with me are the stories about the abhorrent behavior of some of the author's acquaintances and friends, from his 'good hand' days, towards women. Very impressed with the author, though!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    I lived in Williston from 2013-2018 but my experience was a world away from the authors, working in healthcare not directly in the oilfield. I loved this book for many reasons, though, first of which is good writing, but also the empathetic way he embraced his surroundings and the humanity with which he portrayed the people he worked with who so many dismiss. Bravo.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark Parenti

    Very interesting view into life in the Bakken oil fields. The last part of the book was an excellent wrapup and perspective into what the author discovered about himself and life in general on this planet.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Quite a tale. The Bakken oil field at the height of the boom was a world of it's own. Smith was in the thick of it all for 9 months. Besides becoming "a good hand," he wrote and collected enough to give us all an amazing story. Quite a tale. The Bakken oil field at the height of the boom was a world of it's own. Smith was in the thick of it all for 9 months. Besides becoming "a good hand," he wrote and collected enough to give us all an amazing story.

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