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  • Energy and Civilization

  • A History
  • Written by: Vaclav Smil
  • Narrated by: David Colacci
  • Length: 20 hrs and 9 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (62 ratings)

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Energy and Civilization

Written by: Vaclav Smil
Narrated by: David Colacci
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Publisher's Summary

Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows-ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity - for their civilized existence.

In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today's fossil fuel-driven civilization. Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts - from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity's energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering listeners a magisterial overview.

©2017 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (P)2018 Gildan Media

What listeners say about Energy and Civilization

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

excellent delivery of a complex subject

Well written and well organized. Provides a realistic prospective of the actual flows of energy from our early beginnings to today. The closing is especially insightful. Well done.

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

How much power does a horse produce?

Compare to a man? Compare to a 1000 men? Or a loader? How much energy do they consume and how big of a field do I need to seed to feed them. How much energy would that take. How much CO2 they produce? Everything energy since the beginning to today, a wealth of knowledge in today's number one topic. Be informed.

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Well worth reading and arguing over

First and foremost, Energy and Civilization is a book about facts. It chronicles and calculates the various forms of energy used throughout human history and provides much useful information in understanding where we started as a species and how we got to where we are today. That is the book’s great strength and why I would recommend it to others.

Where I disagree with the author is on his basic worldview of what is desirable and undesirable and what humanity should do going forward as regards energy, particularly power generation and supplying energy for the great masses who live in urban environments. I also found one of this book’s shortcomings to be how certain information is presented. For example, he references solar, wind, and fossil fuel Government subsidies and lists total subsidy amounts of each for various periods. Fair enough. But to truly understand these subsidies and their usefulness, we must know the subsidized amount per unit of energy produced, which happens to be much higher for wind and solar than for fossil fuels, even after 50 years of Government subsidies. Also, the low energy density, intermittent nature, and high cost of wind and solar are mentioned only briefly, while still insisting they are the “renewables” of the future. Smil also does not dwell long on the massive energy and material inputs needed to generate these costly and unreliable forms of energy and their limited potential to mainly electrical energy (only 20% of total energy use, whereas fossil fuels and nuclear can be used to all energy uses AND fossil fuels produce many derivative products including synthetic fertilizers, which sustain the lives of at least 3 billion people despite representing only 1% of fossil fuels used today).

Whether you agree or disagree with the author, you can’t get away from the great strength of this book, which is its large assortment of useful facts. I recommend reading this author along with Robert Bryce and Alex Epstein to hear the various competing arguments drawn from many of the same basic facts. 4/5

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2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Must Read

A deep & detailed analysis; as a global citizen, investor/speculator, this book is a must.

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