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** THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER **
'There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil' Bill Gates
We have never had so much information at our fingertips and yet most of us don't know how the world really works. This book explains seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. From energy and food production, through our material world and its globalization, to risks, our environment and its future, How the World Really Works offers a much-needed reality check - because before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts.
In this ambitious and thought-provoking book we see, for example, that globalization isn't inevitable - the perils of allowing 70 per cent of the world's rubber gloves to be made in just one factory became glaringly obvious in 2020 - and that our societies have been steadily increasing their dependence on fossil fuels, making their complete and rapid elimination unlikely. For example, each greenhouse-grown supermarket-bought tomato requires the equivalent of five tablespoons of diesel oil for its production; and we still lack any commercially viable ways of making steel, ammonia, cement or plastics on the scale required globally without fossil fuels.
Vaclav Smil is neither a pessimist nor an optimist, he is a scientist; he is the world-leading expert on energy and an astonishing polymath. This is his magnum opus and a continuation of his quest to make facts matter. Drawing on the latest science, including his own fascinating research, and tackling sources of misinformation head on - from Yuval Noah Harari to Noam Chomsky - ultimately Smil answers the most profound question of our age: are we irrevocably doomed or is a brighter utopia ahead? Compelling, data-rich and revisionist, this wonderfully broad, interdisciplinary masterpiece finds faults with both extremes. Looking at the world through this quantitative lens reveals hidden truths that change the way we see our past, present and uncertain future.
'Very informative and eye-opening in many ways' Ha-Joon Chang, author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism
'If you are anxious about the future, and infuriated that we aren't doing enough about it, please read this book' Paul Collier, author of The Future of Capitalism
'My favourite author has done it again. Numbers Don't Lie is by far his most accessible book to date, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is curious about the world. I unabashedly recommend this book to anyone who loves learning' Bill Gates
Is flying dangerous? How much do the world's cows weigh? And what makes people happy?
From Earth's nations and inhabitants, through the fuels and foods that energize them, to the transportation and inventions of our modern world - and how all of this affects the planet itself - in Numbers Don't Lie, Professor Vaclav Smil takes us on a fact-finding adventure, using surprising statistics and illuminating graphs to challenge lazy thinking. Smil is on a mission to make facts matter, because after all, numbers may not lie, but which truth do they convey?
'Smil's title says it all: to understand the world, you need to follow the trendlines, not the headlines. This is a compelling, fascinating, and most important, realistic portrait of the world and where it's going' Steven Pinker
'The best book to read to better understand our world. It should be on every bookshelf!' Linda Yueh
'There is perhaps no other academic who paints pictures with numbers like Smil' Guardian
Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of over forty books on topics including energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment and public policy. No other living scientist has had more books (on a wide variety of topics) reviewed in Nature. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, in 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. This is his first book for a more general readership.
Societies that have undergone all four transitions emerge into an era of radically different population dynamics, food surpluses (and waste), abundant energy use, and expanding economic opportunities. Simultaneously, in other parts of the world, hundreds of millions remain largely untouched by these developments.
Through erudite storytelling, Vaclav Smil investigates the fascinating and complex interactions of these transitions. He argues that the moral imperative to share modernity's benefits has become more acute with increasing economic inequality, but addressing this imbalance would make it exceedingly difficult to implement the changes necessary for the long-term preservation of the environment. Thus, managing the fifth transition--environmental changes from natural-resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and global warming--will determine the success or eventual failure of the grand transitions that have made the world we live in today.
Growth has been both an unspoken and an explicit aim of our individual and collective striving. It governs the lives of microorganisms and galaxies; it shapes the capabilities of our extraordinarily large brains and the fortunes of our economies. Growth is manifested in annual increments of continental crust, a rising gross domestic product, a child's growth chart, the spread of cancerous cells. In this magisterial book, Vaclav Smil offers systematic investigation of growth in nature and society, from tiny organisms to the trajectories of empires and civilizations.
Smil takes readers from bacterial invasions through animal metabolisms to megacities and the global economy. He begins with organisms whose mature sizes range from microscopic to enormous, looking at disease-causing microbes, the cultivation of staple crops, and human growth from infancy to adulthood. He examines the growth of energy conversions and man-made objects that enable economic activities—developments that have been essential to civilization. Finally, he looks at growth in complex systems, beginning with the growth of human populations and proceeding to the growth of cities. He considers the challenges of tracing the growth of empires and civilizations, explaining that we can chart the growth of organisms across individual and evolutionary time, but that the progress of societies and economies, not so linear, encompasses both decline and renewal. The trajectory of modern civilization, driven by competing imperatives of material growth and biospheric limits, Smil tells us, remains uncertain.
In this newly updated and engaging introduction, renowned scientist Vaclav Smil explores energy in all its facets – from the inner workings of the human body to what we eat, the car we drive and the race for more efficient and eco-friendly fuels.
Energy: A Beginner's Guide highlights the importance of energy in both past and present societies, by shedding light on the science behind global warming and efforts to prevent it, and by revealing how our daily decisions affect energy consumption. Whether you're looking for dinner table conversation or to further your own understanding, this book will amaze and inform, uncovering the truths and exposing the myths behind one of the most important concepts in our universe.
"I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next 'Star Wars' movie. In his latest book, Energy and Civilization: A History, he goes deep and broad to explain how innovations in humans' ability to turn energy into heat, light, and motion have been a driving force behind our cultural and economic progress over the past 10,000 years.
—Bill Gates, Gates Notes, Best Books of the Year
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 readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil's Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.
Based on the best international and national statistical sources, the second edition of Energy Transitions: Global and National Perspectives supplies an in-depth evaluation of how economies and nations around the world are striving to move away from traditional energy sources, the unfolding decarbonization process, and problems with intermittent energies and national transition plans. It supplies readers with a clear introduction to the basic properties of energy systems and key concepts of their appraisal, puts energy transition patterns in long-term historical perspective, and looks at the energy transition in eight of the world's leading economies. The last chapters focus on the advances in the decarbonization of the global energy supply and consider how the energy transition will continue in the coming decades.
This fully updated and substantially expanded edition addresses the many new developments affecting energy supply, such as the recent expansion of hydraulic fracturing, oil price fluctuations, the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe, advances in solar and wind generation, adoption of combined cycle gas turbines, and increased availability of electric cars. The coverage highlights the differences in the pace of transitions in various countries, thereby providing a complete and accurate picture of the current state of energy development in different parts of the world. The book serves as an invaluable resource for students as well as for anyone interested in a realistic appraisal of the current state of energy transitions in various nations and regions and the likely future development of the global energy supply.
“There's no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil.”
In this book, Vaclav Smil argues that power density is a key determinant of the nature and dynamics of energy systems. Any understanding of complex energy systems must rely on quantitative measures of many fundamental variables. Power density—the rate of energy flux per unit of area—is an important but largely overlooked measure. Smil provides the first systematic, quantitative appraisal of power density, offering detailed reviews of the power densities of renewable energy flows, fossil fuels, thermal electricity generation, and all common energy uses.
Smil shows that careful quantification, critical appraisals, and revealing comparisons of power densities make possible a deeper understanding of the ways we harness, convert, and use energies. Conscientious assessment of power densities, he argues, proves particularly revealing when contrasting the fossil fuel–based energy system with renewable energy conversions.
Smil explains that modern civilization has evolved as a direct expression of the high power densities of fossil fuel extraction. He argues that our inevitable (and desirable) move to new energy arrangements involving conversions of lower-density renewable energy sources will require our society—currently dominated by megacities and concentrated industrial production—to undergo a profound spatial restructuring of its energy system.
In Energy at the Crossroads, Vaclav Smil considers the twenty-first century's crucial question: how to reconcile the modern world's unceasing demand for energy with the absolute necessity to preserve the integrity of the biosphere. With this book he offers a comprehensive, accessible guide to today's complex energy issues—how to think clearly and logically about what is possible and what is desirable in our energy future.
After a century of unprecedented production growth, technical innovation, and expanded consumption, the world faces a number of critical energy challenges arising from unequal resource distribution, changing demand patterns, and environmental limitations. The fundamental message of Energy at the Crossroads is that our dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced not because of any imminent resource shortages but because the widespread burning of oil, coal, and natural gas damages the biosphere and presents increasing economic and security problems as the world relies on more expensive supplies and Middle Eastern crude oil.
Smil begins with an overview of the twentieth century's long-term trends and achievements in energy production. He then discusses energy prices, the real cost of energy, and "energy linkages"—the effect energy issues have on the economy, on quality of life, on the environment, and in wartime. He discusses the pitfalls of forecasting, giving many examples of failed predictions and showing that unexpected events can disprove complex models. And he examines the pros and cons not only of fossil fuels but also of alternative fuels such as hydroenergy, biomass energy, wind power, and solar power. Finally, he considers the future, focusing on what really matters, what works, what is realistic, and which outcomes are most desirable.
«Vaclav Smil potrebbe parlare con competenza di qualsiasi cosa».
The New York Times
«Vaclav Smil maneggia la matematica come un artista».
Natural gas is the world’s cleanest fossil fuel; it generates less air pollution and releases less CO2 per unit of useful energy than liquid fuels or coals. With its vast supplies of conventional resources and nonconventional stores, the extension of long-distance gas pipelines and the recent expansion of liquefied natural gas trade, a truly global market has been created for this clean fuel.
Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century discusses the place and prospects of natural gas in modern high-energy societies. Vaclav Smil presents a systematic survey of the qualities, origins, extraction, processing and transportation of natural gas, followed by a detailed appraisal of its many preferred, traditional and potential uses, and the recent emergence of the fuel as a globally traded commodity. The unfolding diversification of sources, particularly hydraulic fracturing, and the role of natural gas in national and global energy transitions are described. The book concludes with a discussion on the advantages, risks, benefits and costs of natural gas as a leading, if not dominant, fuel of the 21st century.
This interdisciplinary text will be of interest to a wide readership concerned with global energy affairs including professionals and academics in energy and environmental science, policy makers, consultants and advisors with an interest in the rapidly-changing global energy industry.