An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization

By Vaclav Smil





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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262194105 228 pp. | 8 in x 9 in


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262692359 228 pp. | 8 in x 9 in


  • A thought-provoking and enjoyable piece of work.

    Wolfgang Rueckner

    Harvard University

  • Accurate, balanced AND imaginative.

    Jesse H. Anusubel

    Director, Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller 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