The cover of Energy


A Human History

by Richard Rhodes

I’m a big fan of Richard Rhodes. The depth of research that he does when presenting historical nonfiction is without parallel. Sometimes, this means that the storytelling gets a bit lost, but in the case of Energy, a survey-style approach means that the text doesn’t get too bogged down in the source details.

The history of energy is really fascinating. It’s a thoroughly modern history; the book starts us out in 1598 and very quickly moves through the pre-oil days. But every step along the way, the narrative is more or less: humans discover a new resource that provides more energy than ones they used before. They quickly figure out how to extract every bit of that resource from the ecosystem, often wasting much of it, since their needs aren’t much greater than what the previous source satisfied. Eventually, technology catches up and humans use 100% of the available energy output of their resources. A shortage happens. A new resource is discovered. Rinse, repeat.

It’s hard to see this cycle ending, even with “renewable” resources.