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Energy and Civilization: A History

by Vaclav Smil

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Energy and Civilization: A History
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Overview

Overview

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil

A comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society throughout history, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today's fossil fuel--driven civilization.

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.

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Product Details
ISBN-13:
9780262035774
9780262035774
Publisher:
MIT Press
MIT Press
Publication date:
05/12/2017
Pages:
568
568
Sales rank:
5,189
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)
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About the Author

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of forty books, including Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses and 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."
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

1 Energy and Society 1

Flows, Stores, and Controls 4

Concepts and Measures 8

Complexities and Caveats 17

2 Energy in Prehistory 21

Foraging Societies 28

Origins of Agriculture 41

3 Traditional Farming 49

Commonalities and Peculiarities 52

Field Work 53

The Dominance of Grains 57

Cropping Cycles 62

Routes to Intensification 65

Draft Animals 66

Irrigation 76

Fertilization 82

Crop Diversity 85

Persistence and Innovation 87

Ancient Egypt 88

China 90

Mesoamerican Cultures 97

Europe 99

North America 106

The Limits of Traditional Farming 110

Achievements 111

Nutrition 118

Limits 120

4 Preindustrial Prime Movers and Fuels 127

Prime Movers 130

Animate Power 132

Water Power 146

Wind Power 157

Biomass Fuels 163

Wood and Charcoal 164

Crop Residues and Dung 169

Household Needs 171

Food Preparation 172

Heat and Light 174

Transportation and Construction 177

Moving on Land 178

Oared Ships and Sail Ships 187

Buildings and Structures 197

Metallurgy 207

Nonferrous Metals 208

Iron and Steel 211

Warfare 217

Animate Energies 217

Explosives and Guns 222

5 Fossil Fuels, Primary Electricity, and Renewables 225

The Great Transition 228

The Beginnings and Diffusion of Coal Extraction 229

From Charcoal to Coke 234

Steam Engines 235

Oil and Internal Combustion Engines 245

Electricity 254

Technical Innovations 267

Coals 271

Hydrocarbons 274

Electricity 281

Renewable Energies 284

Prime Movers in Transportation 289

6 Fossil-Fueled Civilization 295

Unprecedented Power and Its Uses 296

Energy in Agriculture 306

Industrialization 313

Transportation 324

Information and Communication 333

Economic Growth 344

Consequences and Concerns 351

Urbanization 352

Quality of Life 355

Political Implications 364

Weapons and Wars 368

Environmental Changes 381

7 Energy in World History 385

Grand Patterns of Energy Use 385

Energy Eras and Transitions 387

Long-Term Trends and Falling Costs 397

What Has Not Changed? 407

Between Determinism and Choice 417

Imperatives of Energy Needs and Uses 418

The Importance of Controls 425

The Limits of Energy Explanations 430

Addenda 443

Basic Measures 443

Scientific Units and Their Multiples and Submultiples 445

Chronology of Energy-Related Developments 446

Power in History 456

Bibliographical Notes 459

References 463

Name Index 531

Subject Index 535

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Editorial Reviews

Editorial Reviews

A wise, compassionate, and valuable book.

Foreign Affairs

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