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Hardcover | Out of Print | 444 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 136 illus. | October 2003 | ISBN: 9780262194921
Paperback | $23.95 Trade | £19.95 | 444 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 136 illus. | February 2005 | ISBN: 9780262693240
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Energy at the Crossroads

Global Perspectives and Uncertainties


In Energy at the Crossroads, Vaclav Smil considers the twenty-first century's crucial question: how to reconcile the modern world's unceasing demand for energy with the absolute necessity to preserve the integrity of the biosphere. With this book he offers a comprehensive, accessible guide to today's complex energy issues—how to think clearly and logically about what is possible and what is desirable in our energy future.

After a century of unprecedented production growth, technical innovation, and expanded consumption, the world faces a number of critical energy challenges arising from unequal resource distribution, changing demand patterns, and environmental limitations. The fundamental message of Energy at the Crossroads is that our dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced not because of any imminent resource shortages but because the widespread burning of oil, coal, and natural gas damages the biosphere and presents increasing economic and security problems as the world relies on more expensive supplies and Middle Eastern crude oil.

Smil begins with an overview of the twentieth century's long-term trends and achievements in energy production. He then discusses energy prices, the real cost of energy, and "energy linkages"—the effect energy issues have on the economy, on quality of life, on the environment, and in wartime. He discusses the pitfalls of forecasting, giving many examples of failed predictions and showing that unexpected events can disprove complex models. And he examines the pros and cons not only of fossil fuels but also of alternative fuels such as hydroenergy, biomass energy, wind power, and solar power. Finally, he considers the future, focusing on what really matters, what works, what is realistic, and which outcomes are most desirable.

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 thorough introduction to the subject and a thoughtful consideration of the conundrums it presents. Smil skillfully guidees readers through the forests and the trees.”—Foreign Affairs
“...[A] sweeping survey of global energy trends...”—Jeremiah Creedon, Utne
Energy at the Crossroads provides a highly accessible tour of the state of the energy world.”—Daniel M. Kammen, Science
“The most sober, thorough, and thoughtful integrated text on energy available, and it embodies core facts and some fundamental truths that any analyst of energy issues should ponder.”—Michael Grubb, Nature
“...[Zeroes] in on the issue of reconciling the world's accelerating demand for energy...”—Peter D. Blair , American Scientist


“A wealth of very useful information about energy use, resources, and environmental and socioeconomic impact, and the author's unabashed but educated opinions about approaches to the future. Thought-provoking and highly worthwhile reading for both believers and unbelievers.”
Professor Noam Lior, Editor-in-Chief, ENERGY - The International Journal
“An authoritative and comprehensive look at global energy prospects by one of the world's most respected energy scholars.”
Cutler J. Cleveland, Professor and Director, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Boston University
“Vaclav Smil's work stands as a bright light in a sea of dim treatises on the subject of energy. His previous energy books are invaluable and insightful resources, filled with real facts and clear writing. Energy at the Crossroads continues and expands that tradition.”
Mark P. Mills, Digital Power Capital
“An excellent guide for the general reader or university student to complex energy and environmental issues. Smil's critical thinking, independence, and conscious attempts to remain objective while clearly keeping in mind normative goals are, as always, refreshing.”
Jonthan E. Sinton, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
“Smil has the best macroscope of all current energy analysts.”
Jesse H. Ausubel , Director, Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University