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Hardcover | Out of Print | 228 pp. | 8 x 9 in | December 1998 | ISBN: 9780262194105
Paperback | $25.00 Short | £19.95 | 228 pp. | 8 x 9 in | February 2000 | ISBN: 9780262692359
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An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization


Energy is the only universal currency. One of its many forms must be transformed into another in order for stars to shine, planets to rotate, living things to grow, and civilizations to evolve. Recognition of this universality was one of the great achievements of nineteenth-century science, yet even today there is little literature that tries to view the world broadly through the prism of energy.In this highly original book, ecologist Vaclav Smil takes the principle of universality seriously, presenting a comprehensive and integrated survey of all the forms of energy that shape our world, from the sun to the human body, from bread to microchips. Written in a scientifically sophisticated yet accessible style, Energies consists of eighty-two short essays organized under six headings: Sun and Earth, Plants and Animals, People and Food, Preindustrial Societies, Fossil-Fueled Civilization, and Motion and Information. Each essay explains the science of the energy form as well as its implications for the functioning of the universe, life, or human society. Cross-links and summary diagrams allow easy comparisons among the various levels and flows of energy.

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.”


“A thought-provoking and enjoyable piece of work.”
Wolfgang Rueckner, Harvard University
“From the deluge of photons out of the sovereign sun to the astonishing increase of computer power and chip compaction, this book uses energy to measure and order change from the heavens to the Internet. On a simple but quantitative basis it assembles a treasure of diagrams, graphs, maps, drawings and photos to deepen its cogency and to pleasure its readers. It is surely a reference work for the thoughtful, and a page-turning delight for whoever would grasp how we all came this way: a map of the world monsoon, animal fats compared, the linkage that lets horses sleep standing, giant gas and oil flows and a couple of hundred other images!”
Philip Morrison, Institute Professor Emeritus, MIT