Energy: A Human History

Energy: A Human History

Posted by jack_miller | Published 6 months ago

With 108 ratings

By: Richard Rhodes, Jacques Roy, et al.

Purchased At: $18.00

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. 

The book is excellent. It explains our energy past to elucidate our energy present and future. And it’s quite well written.

However, don’t buy this or any other book with graphs, photos, or illustrations on the Kindle app. This book has many such features which I’m sure would aid in comprehending the material, if only they were rendered at a size larger than my little fingernail. As it stands, it is impossible to even see what most of the diagrams and photos are meant to convey. And yes, I tried to no avail to enlarge them.

Amazon really needs to fix this. For now, though, I’d advise folks to avoid trying to read even marginally technical books on the Kindle app.

- jacoby_wood

Free flowing and highly readable, indeed engrossing with many fascinating vignettes about historical events that shaped energy markets. And I was pleasantly surprised this was not an ideological treatise about fossil fuels and climate change, in fact reading between the lines it seemed to me that because of their inability to be scaled without huge subsidies the author is highly skeptical about renewable sources like wind and solar, waxing instead about the lost promise of nuclear, lost because in a democracy irrational fears (in this case about radioactivity) become accepted in to the public discourse as hard fact. He probably needed to be circumspect about his skepticism of wind and solar for fear of being skewered alive on the altar of political correctness by the "climate scientist" cabal, always fearful of some counterargument to the Faith jeopardizing their research grants.....

- isabelle_alvarez

I read this book based upon a recommendation in the Wall Street Journal and was not disappointed. The author covers the evolution from wood to coal to steam to electricity to nuclear and does a pretty good job of looking at the upsides and downsides of each. Each energy source has done some harm but lots of good. We need to keep evolving to make the world a better place. We’ve done it before.

- dax_parker

Excellent book. I enjoy the way Rhodes brings historical characters to life. I do recommend it. I have two issues, both having to do with the Kindle version. First, the illustrations are hard enough to view when you CAN expand them. I'd say half the illustrations in this book could not be expanded so were essentially worthless little blobs on my screen. Second, I was immersed in reading with about 4 hrs and 45% remaining to read when the narrative suddenly ended. Huh? Turns out that last 45% is acknowledgments, bibliography, notes and index. Kudos to Rhodes for being so thorough but I was pretty let down by my perceived loss of material. I wasn't really interested in spending 4hrs perusing the extras. I think this Kindle quirk needs to change.

- leonel_morales

Richard Rhodes is well known for careful research and clear writing in his several non-fiction books. This book is no exception. What makes it particularly interesting is his customary and illuminating use of narratives about individuals to illustrate the larger historical movements that he describes. Happily, the book is well documented so that the reader may follow up on details without excess searching for references. The topic is timely, and the book is valuable.

- sadie_peterson

This is a great walk through the evolution of energy and a view of what is to come. Even if you think you know everything about how we got to where we are and the path forward, you will be surprised at how the author ties it all together. this book is a well balanced view of what we face and offers some thoughts on the path forward. It does a very good job in the discussion of today's energy picture to bring out the hidden biases that have been shaping the public discussion. There were some surprises in that section for me.

- caylee_morgan

This is a fascinating, well documented history of energy and its evolution. The author is absolutely brilliant and explains not only the history but explanations of how things work and the inventors and personalities behind them. Some parts are somewhat technical, but you can gloss over them.

- kinley_martin

If you ever wondered how it is that you turn on a switch an electricity flows into your home, or how it evolved that we heat our homes, power our factories or drive our cars this is a great read. The author does an excellent job of explaining the evolution of energy and power from pre-industrial revolution England, through the industrial revolution to the industrial revolution in America (eg manufacturing steel and aluminum, generating and transmission of electricity to gasoline as we know it today).

- remi_carter

Stick with this book, wonderful romp through energy history and futures. Even expert readers will learn something new. Why stick with it? First few chapters read like a Brexiteers guide to British ingenuity, but the human stories of rivalry and intrigue are well worth it, and story expands to global challenge and rang of solutions.

- willie_brown

Great book very comprehensive in detail & full of great antidotes

- karen_parker

Energy is the foundation of human progress, growth and economic prosperity. In this work, Richard Rhodes provides an excellent and competent introduction to the history of energy capture and utilization within industrialized civilization. The books is written to reach a large and not exclusively academic audience; and while highly informative, should be accessible to the vast majority, particularly the audiobook. The hardback edition of this books is printed and bound to a high quality standard and the audiobook is narrated well. I highly recommend both the physical hardback edition and the audiobook.

- brody_phillips

È scritto bene, in tono più divulgativo che tecnico, quindi comprensibile anche a chi non ha molte nozioni di fisica e chimica. Nonostante questo, a volte le spiegazioni sul funzionamento dei motori e dei macchinari risultano un po’ difficili da seguire. Nel complesso, comunque, una lettura interessante e godibile.

- ahmed_anderson

90% of the illustrations in the Kindle version are smaller than 1sqmm and do not scale. This really makes the steam section useless and the rest of the text that is illustration dependent a joke. Also: I was not allowed to return it? A rip off.

- addison_king

A nifty collection of stories linked by their relationship to our need for energy. Well written with handsome pictures and diagrams. I really enjoyed it.

- terrell_wood

Rhodes writes well and tells an important story.

- harlan_james

Well written as one would expect from Richard Rhodes

- jamie_ortiz

Author knows a great deal over the subject but the story gets lost in too many details.

- boston_collins

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