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Hardcover | Out of Print | 352 pp. | 6 x 9 in | October 1997 | ISBN: 9780262140638
Paperback | $36.00 Short | £29.95 | 352 pp. | 6 x 9 in | February 1999 | ISBN: 9780262640381
eBook | $36.00 Short | February 1999 | ISBN: 9780262332620
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Consuming Power

A Social History of American Energies


How did the United States become the world's largest consumer of energy? David Nye shows that this is less a question about the development of technology than it is a question about the development of culture. In Consuming Power, Nye uses energy as a touchstone to examine the lives of ordinary people engaged in normal activities. He looks at how these activities changed as new energy systems were constructed, from colonial times to recent years. He also shows how, as Americans incorporated new machines and processes into their lives, they became ensnared in power systems that were not easily changed: they made choices about the conduct of their lives, and those choices accumulated to produce a consuming culture. Nye examines a sequence of large systems that acquired and then lost technological momentum over the course of American history, including water power, steam power, electricity, the internal-combustion engine, atomic power, and computerization. He shows how each system became part of a larger set of social constructions through its links to the home, the factory, and the city. The result is a social history of America as seen through the lens of energy consumption.

About the Author

David E. Nye, who was knighted by the Danish Queen in 2013, is Senior Research Fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute and the History of Science and Technology program at the University of Minnesota and Professor of American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. His eight other books published by the MIT Press include Electrifying America and When the Lights Went Out: A History of American Blackouts. His awards include the Leonardo da Vinci Medal (2005).


“This survey is compellingly written, making intelligent use of entertaining anecdotes, apt but unfamiliar quotations, and concrete details of everyday life—all in the service of innovative general arguments.”
Jeffrey L. Meikle, Director, American Studies Program, University of Texas at Austin; author of American Plastic: A Cultural History