Feeding the Fire: The Lost History & Uncertain Future of Mankind's Energy Addiction

Mark E. Eberhart, Author . Crown $24 (283p) ISBN 978-0-307-23744-6

The ancient Mayan city of Tikal died out, and London nearly met the same fate in the Middle Ages, because they exhausted their local energy sources. All humankind faces a similar situation today, says Eberhart (Why Things Break ), but perhaps Americans have enough imagination to come up with alternative energy sources in time to save civilization and the planet. Unlike other commentators on the energy crisis, he steps back to consider the basic science—all the way back to the laws of thermodynamics and the principle of entropy. This discussion is enlivened by the chemistry professor's friendly tone and his gleeful recounting of early childhood experiments in creating explosives, but some readers may be understandably impatient to learn how all this background can be applied to the contemporary situation. When Eberhart, at the Colorado School of Mines, finally gets to that subject, his solution is admittedly broad. He suggests that the U.S. needs to create an "energy-industrial complex" to fully supply its needs by 2035, but offers little in the way of specific proposals beyond building more electric cars and providing economic incentives for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from factories. The science is fine, but more history and policy would have helped. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
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