An absorbing, if brief, account of life on an offshore oil rig. In 1971, oil was discovered 300 miles off Scotland, and the North Sea, formerly known simply as one of Earth's most hostile environments, became an economic bonanza--and ailing Britain's saving grace. In 1983, Alvarez (The Savage God) ventured into the bleak seascape of North Sea oil installations. He came to know the men who run the so-called Brent Field, living on the edge of danger, isolated almost to the point of being imprisoned, working near sheer exhaustion to dull the omnipresent dangers. Alvarez interviewed the men who convinced Shell Oil to drill near the 61 st parallel (roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska) and entrepreneurs who made their fortunes there. He also explored how the oil development has transformed life in nearby Aberdeen, Scotland, and the desolate Shetland Islands. Alvarez is able to convey in intimate and engrossing detail even the most mundane daily tasks offshore, such as transferring cargo by crane onto a platform from a supply boat pitching in seas boiled by 40-knot gales. Indeed, the prose is readable throughout; the final chapters--on the quirky Shetlanders and their austere landscape, and the otherworldly existence of divers who routinely repair structures 500 feet below the North Sea's turbulent surface, live in cramped, pressurized compartments during their four-week-long shifts, and must ""decompress"" for days before heading home--are poetic.