In the last few months I have read three books by Vaclav Smil that I highly recommend. He also recently visited our offices and opened my eyes to new ways to think about solving our energy and environmental issues.
If you are interested in learning more about the foundation of our energy system, the issues we face, and opportunities to address them, I highly recommend his books, even though some are slightly technical.
I also recommend Sustainable energy - without the hot air by David MacKay, which I discuss here. There’s also a video of MacKay’s that I liked a lot.
Here are two books that I have previously read by Smil: Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties is an excellent book that explains the history of energy and the challenges we face.
Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years is also great.
The ones I just got around to are:
Enriching the Earth: Fritz Habery, Carol Bosch and the Transformation of World Food Production is a must read for anyone who wants to know about fertilizer. It is very well written and explains the science very well. He makes a strong case for how important nitrogen is. Even for someone who already knows a lot, his synthesis here is fantastic. He not only gives the history, he also talks about the future and what can be done. As usual, he is incredibly educational with lots of numbers. He explains the various sources of nitrogen for various crops. His math suggests that although over half of fertilizer is wasted, in most cases something like 30% ends up in the crops.
Energies: An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization explains a lot about energy uses and what has changed over time. He goes from cells to engines.
The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics and Change. I am just reading this one.
If you don’t have time to read any of Smil’s books, there’s a great video that I would recommend.