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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author Richard Rhodes reveals the fascinating history behind energy transitions over time - wood to coal to oil to electricity and beyond.

People have lived and died, businesses have prospered and failed, and nations have risen to world power and declined, all over energy challenges. Ultimately, the history of these challenges tells the story of humanity itself.

Through an unforgettable cast of characters, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes explains how wood gave way to coal and coal made room for oil, as we now turn to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable energy. Rhodes looks back on five centuries of progress, through such influential figures as Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, Benjamin Franklin, Herman Melville, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford.

In Energy, Rhodes highlights the successes and failures that led to each breakthrough in energy production, from animal and water power to the steam engine, from internal combustion to the electric motor. He addresses how we learned from such challenges, mastered their transitions, and capitalized on their opportunities. Rhodes also looks at the current energy landscape, with a focus on how wind energy is competing for dominance with cast supplies of coal and natural gas. He also addresses the specter of global warming and a population hurtling toward 10 billion by 2100.

Human beings have confronted the problem of how to draw life from raw material since the beginning of time. Each invention, each discovery, each adaptation brought further challenges, and through such transformations we arrived at where we are today. In Rhodes’ singular style, Energy details how this knowledge of our history can inform our way tomorrow. 

©2018 Richard Rhodes (P)2018 Simon & Schuster Audio

What members say

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Would be an excellent read, but a terrible listen.

The narrator, Jacques Roy, is reason enough to avoid a title. If the mis-pronunciations of reasonably non-technical words isn't bad enough the cheesy character accents completely ruin an otherwise fascinating book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • 2018-07-22

Does not disappoint.

An in depth analysis of energy from wood to nuclear to renewables. Rhoades recounts the history of how society, whose existence, limitations, and growth ultimately depend on energy. As those of you who have read his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" will note his work is unbiased, straightforward an approach to history. This departs from that only in the final chapter when necessity forces him to draw conclusions from history and project these forward in time. Although some disagreement may exist on the precise nature of how the future might unfold, no thinking person can disagree with the general idea of these conclusions. An excellent work of history and prescient futurism combined.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Photino
  • Richmond, VT
  • 2018-07-26

Rhodes si, accents no!

Rhodes’s book Is engaging but is not easy to listen to. Mr. Roy’s attempts at accents are unfortunate and amateurish. He has a pleasant and clear voice. If only he had just read the book and omitted the histrionics.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Ned Gulley
  • Boston, MA
  • 2018-08-30

No more accents, please!

Hello to Audible narrators, Audible producers, Audible editors: I love your books. I love your service. But please please PLEASE don't use foreign accents when reading nonfiction. It's painfully distracting. This is a terrific book. But, just to take one example: the French inventor Denis Papin did not speak English with a bad French accent. He spoke French. We know that, and we don't need to be reminded of it. When you're reading an English translation of his words, it doesn't help to say it in a bad French accent. Or a good French accent. Or a French accent of any kind. It actually makes it very hard to concentrate on the text. I'm begging you not to do this with other nonfiction books. I might not have ordered this book had I realized how much of this I would have to listen to.

But it is a good book!

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter Jensen
  • Florida
  • 2018-09-09

Poor narration

I did not like how the narrator performed various accents, otherwise the book was fine.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Don Middleton
  • 2018-08-27

Not as comprehensive as perhaps is warranted today.

It is a history, so no peek into what may be just over the horizon, such as “gasoline from sunlight” an industrialization of what plants do with photosynthesis - make a liquid source of energy with sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. And because he wanted to write a much shorter book, this is not nearly as comprehensive as his two books on the making of the atomic and nuclear bombs. But still, a worthwhile listen. And he makes a great case for keeping nuclear energy as part of the mix of future electrical generation.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard
  • United States
  • 2018-07-08

comprehensive history of energy development

This is a wonderfully comprehensive overview of energy development spanning more than six centuries. It is presented and an ideal technical level that most readers can follow without being bored. The audio performer consistently mispronounces the prefix "giga" as though it were "jiga" e.g. jigawatt. This really grates on the listener's nerves

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Derek
  • 2018-07-15

Educational and inspiring

Richard Rhodes impresses again. By winding little-known tales of discovery and invention into a narrative he brings the reader on a tour through the history of human mastery of energy sources.

In addition to the history of energy, it is an instructional journey through the trials and tribulations integer this to technological progress.

I plan on using this book as a supplemental text in my engineering courses and encourage all educators of technology, science, and history to do so as well.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • J. Rector
  • 2018-08-21

Soporific narration.

The book is good, but did not meet my high expectations. The reader has a soft tone that when combined with the dry material makes for a sleepy listen. Reader’s decent but unnecessary attempts to inflect foreign accents on quoted material were distracting.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Doug
  • Studio City, CA, United States
  • 2019-05-01

Goes Off The Rails At The End

Mr Rhodes is an wonderful, knowledgeable writer, and this book is both entertaining and informative... until the last two chapters. At that point, it suddenly veers into a screed against the anti-nuclear movement of the 60’s and 70’s, complete with the author’s personal theories of the psychological motivations that brought Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring (she was undergoing chemo and radiation therapy for breast cancer) and an attempt to discredit Obama’s science advisor by linking him to a racist professor at Cal Tech.

Mr Rhodes obviously knows a lot about nuclear power (he wrote The Making of the Atomic Bomb, an excellent book), but I think he would have been a better advocate for rehabilitating the nuclear industry, and would have written a better book, by making rational arguments instead of engaging in amateur psychology and conspiracy theory.

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Marguerite
  • 2019-04-25

history but not future

long, involved, very interesting on the history, not very thorough on the forward look at energy.