Richard Rhodes, “Energy: A Human History”

Knowledge Problem

Richard Rhodes has written an amazing book. He aspired to tell the tales of energy transitions over the past 400 years. His Energy: A Human History accomplishes that task.

The book is daunting in size for non-required reading. It is filled with brief stories of this or that device or discovery or development, and almost overwhelming in both scope and detail. I wondered, at times, when the payoff would come.

My advice: If you are at all interested in the topic, stick with it.

To my economics-trained mind the book lacks analytical structure. One story after another, linked together by fuel source or technology, layer on layer. Only slowly do the deeper themes emerge. The “great man” history of invention gets a much needed texture, as we learn about the multitude of small advances necessary for the big advance of, say, James Watts and his steam engine. We also…

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About Jim Rose

Utopia - you are standing in it promotes a classical liberal view of the world and champion the mass flourishing of humanity through capitalism and the rule of law. The origin of the blog is explained in the first blog post at

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