How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil [7/10]

Vaclav Smil is one of the most prolific “energy for every person” educators around, his works over the past two decades building on each other to “How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present and Future.” In a sense, this is his magnum opus, his summary of the world of the 2020s and how to approach humanity’s fraught future. Smil is a squirrel of measurable, describable facts about humankind’s technological and energy-related passage over the centuries. His scorn for both climate crisis advocates for fast, global change and for techno miracle cure purveyors, a scabrous grumbling throughout the book, is both useful (we need to be grounded in real numbers) and ultimately diminishing (his contempt for some notions sounds more curmudgeonly than analytical). Grumpiness notwithstanding, Smil’s insistence on data and numbers and logic is a bracing benefit for all of us seeking to discern our current predicament and a future response to it. A bonus of How the World Really Works is that the author is an entertaining, nimble writer, so that the book is never dull. Recommended.

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