Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity's Unappeasable Appetite for Energy

Alfred W. Crosby, Author . Norton $23.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-393-05935-9

Ever since cultivating fire, the human species has depended on tapping new sources of energy for survival, writes global historian Crosby (Germs, Seeds, and Animals: Studies in Ecological History ). This enjoyable, humorously anecdotal study provides a succinct overview of our voracious "appetite for energy," most particularly the inventive (and indiscriminate) exploitation of sunshine in its fossilized forms—peat, coal, oil and natural gas. The hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era depended on muscle power to move through their world, and not much changed, Crosby notes, until the advent of the Industrial Revolution, when the first steam-powered engine was invented in 1712 by ironmonger Thomas Newcomen (James Watt, Crosby says, merely improved on Newcomen's design). Advances in harnessing energy trapped in organic matter followed quickly: whale oil used for lighting was supplanted by coal gas, kerosene distilled from petroleum and finally Thomas Edison's light bulb—itself powered by the electricity generated from coal and oil. This history explores how an ingenious and adaptable humankind found ever more efficient ways to harness "concentrated sun energy." Crosby is optimistic about the Earth's future—with the caveat that that future could be bleak without another energy breakthrough. B&w illus. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/07/2005
Release date: 01/01/2006
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-393-93153-2
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