At 27 Sally Helgesen decided to look into her family roots in Texas, got a magazine assignment, and, casting about for a newsy angle, heard tell again and again of ""the new boom, and the new generation's part in it, the necessity for independence, the importance of family, of breeding, of stock""--and of the fabulous, wealthy Moncrief family. Hence her focus on ""a way of life that exhibited a surprising continuity."" First came the frontiersmen and the wildcatters; then, the second generation--consolidators, expansionists, easy-livers; then the third generation--discontented and nostalgic, wildcatters-in-spirit again. ""We're oilmen,"" says Monty Moncrief, 84, fit and fatless. ""We're one-hundred percent family owned, unincorporated, and independent, and we intend to stay that way."" It is East Texas, with its deep-buried 30-mile sweep of sandbar that once held 25,000 contiguous wells, that is ""the daddy of them all""; the Spindletop field was discovered there at the turn of the century. Later, in 1927, Dad Joiner struck a fabled gusher, the Daisy Bradford, but was talked into leasing his claim to H. L. Hunt--""as crafty an old son of a bitch as ever was,"" says Monty, whose own 400 acres just northeast soon came in also. As Dallas and Fort Worth grew, a kind of transcendent clubbiness took hold of the bigger entrepreneurs--like promoters Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson. The biggest modern wildcatter operation was Dick Moncrief's entry into the Gulf of Suez, bringing in a fantastic underwater field, only to have Israel give it back to Egypt in 1979. So it goes on the frontier as Helgesen pretty much sticks to business--touched up with a little local color. Readable, but not in a class with Harry Hunt's eye-popping Texas Rich (p. 410).