Energy: A Beginner's Guide Paperback – May 1 2006
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About the Author
Vaclav Smil is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of more than thirty books, including "Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature "and, most recently, "Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing" both published by the MIT Press. In 2010 he was named by "Foreign Policy" as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2013 Bill Gates wrote on his website that "there is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil."
"Filled with interesting factual tidbits, this book rekindles the fascination with science that we all once had as children." -- Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Some more serious problems occur on page 152, where the parenthetical definition of "net energy ratio" is actually the the definition of EROI, energy return on investment (of energy). The numbers discussed in the remainder of the paragraph are actually values of 1- 1/EROI . A true beginner would be flummoxed.
Another grievance is that the difference between installed capacity of wind power and the actual production of electrical power is not emphasized forcefully enough. A wind production number is given on page 169 (as a percent of world electrical power), but you are on your own to figure out the important capacity factor, and then to put wind power in a fair comparison with nuclear power and coal power. The summary of wind energy is otherwise excellent, as is the summary of photosynthesis and biofuels. All ethanol fans should read it.
The focus of the book in not renewable energy policy. The scope is much more grand, all done wonderfully in consistent S.I. Units, with respect for the intelligence of the reader. The author gets to the point. Energetics is the most concise way to organize knowledge of your universe. The brilliant author summarizes nearly all of it in 176 pages: your cells, your home economics, your technology, your planet. For larger scale solar and galactic - you may need to shop elsewhere. Presentation of energetics leads to implications in the sociology of jet travel, urban planning, and history of science and technology. For example, on page 93 we learn how the celebrated inventor James Watt delayed progressive development of the steam engine.
The book would be a great investment of time and money if a better book was not available: "Energy in Nature and Society", published by Smil in 2008. That book has more figures, of better quality, appendices and approximately 3 times the amount of text. The overlap in not complete, though. You won't find that tidbit about Watt in the 2008 work, or the fact that swarms of insects soiling the leading edge of wind turbine blades can cause a nearly instant drop in power production by up to 20%.
1. Energy in our minds: concepts and measures
2. Energy in the biosphere: how nature works
3. Energy in human history: muscles, tools and machines
4. Energy in the modern world: fossil-fueled civilization
5. Energy in everyday life: from eating to emailing
6. Energy in the future: trends and unknowns
I highly recommend this book to all. In fact, i think this book should be a required reading for every citizen because energy is such an important factor in human life and economy, and assumes more importance in current times because of its relevance to sustainability. Added bonus that its an entertaining read.
It left me in awe of just how much we humans have come to know. Also, it puts in perspective some of the climate change issues. Just remember, there will not be a quiz and enjoy knowing that out there scientists actually understand a lot more than today's media can ever present.
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