Richard Rhodes’ dazzling Energy: A Human History tells a compulsively readable tale of human need, curiosity, ingenuity and arrogance. In a fast-paced narrative, he conducts readers on a journey from humanity’s dependence on wood as the primary fuel source to the use of coal and up to the development of nuclear energy and solar energy.
Along the way, Rhodes introduces readers to inventors and scientists whose discoveries fueled work on various methods of extracting and harnessing different sources of energy. Readers will be familiar with stories about Benjamin Franklin’s discovery of electricity and James Watt’s invention of the steam engine, but Rhodes also introduces lesser-known innovators like Denis Papin, the 18th-century scientist who invented a double-acting steam engine that Watt used as a model, but whose inventions were never supported by others, and Richard Trevithick, the 19th-century inventor of a portable steam engine, among many others.
Rhodes judiciously points out that the overdependence on various sources of energy leads to their depletion and to dangerous threats to health such as air and water pollution. Rhodes concludes that the greatest challenge for the 21st century will be limiting global warming while providing energy for a population that will grow by 25 percent by 2100. This exceptional book is required reading for anyone concerned about the human impact on the future of the world. Rhodes optimistically predicts that by using all sources of energy—nuclear, solar and renewable resources—the world can meet the needs of its growing population.