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Energy: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2008
This is not truly a Beginner's Guide. The book is more like an Executive Summary of the many writings by the prolific author, up to 2005. No references are given. There is no appendix with useful tables of values. However, there are many useful tables, lists and values dispersed throughout the book. The book has a few flubs: confusing ultra-violet radiation with infrared, missing a "per year" in a sentence, and draft animals pulling with kg of force.

Some more serious problems occur on page 152, where the parenthetical definition of "net energy ratio" is actually the the definition of EROI, energy return on investment (of energy). The numbers discussed in the remainder of the paragraph are actually values of 1- 1/EROI . A true beginner would be flummoxed.

Another grievance is that the difference between installed capacity of wind power and the actual production of electrical power is not emphasized forcefully enough. A wind production number is given on page 169 (as a percent of world electrical power), but you are on your own to figure out the important capacity factor, and then to put wind power in a fair comparison with nuclear power and coal power. The summary of wind energy is otherwise excellent, as is the summary of photosynthesis and biofuels. All ethanol fans should read it.

The focus of the book in not renewable energy policy. The scope is much more grand, all done wonderfully in consistent S.I. Units, with respect for the intelligence of the reader. The author gets to the point. Energetics is the most concise way to organize knowledge of your universe. The brilliant author summarizes nearly all of it in 176 pages: your cells, your home economics, your technology, your planet. For larger scale solar and galactic - you may need to shop elsewhere. Presentation of energetics leads to implications in the sociology of jet travel, urban planning, and history of science and technology. For example, on page 93 we learn how the celebrated inventor James Watt delayed progressive development of the steam engine.

The book would be a great investment of time and money if a better book was not available: "Energy in Nature and Society", published by Smil in 2008. That book has more figures, of better quality, appendices and approximately 3 times the amount of text. The overlap in not complete, though. You won't find that tidbit about Watt in the 2008 work, or the fact that swarms of insects soiling the leading edge of wind turbine blades can cause a nearly instant drop in power production by up to 20%.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2013
This is an excellent primer on energy for people who want to be energy-literate. The book takes an interdisciplinary approach, discussing energy from historical, scientific, industrial, economic, end-use, social, environmental, political, legal, regulatory, and global perspectives. This 181-page book (176 pages of narrative) contains 33 helpful charts and diagrams, plus many excellent sidebar essays. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2014
This is an outstanding introduction to the concept of energy. The contents are organized very well. The first chapter starts with the basic concepts of energy and its measurement, and then proceeds in an "evolutionary sequence" with a discussion of energy in -- nature, human history, present society, and future. The chapters are as follows:

1. Energy in our minds: concepts and measures
2. Energy in the biosphere: how nature works
3. Energy in human history: muscles, tools and machines
4. Energy in the modern world: fossil-fueled civilization
5. Energy in everyday life: from eating to emailing
6. Energy in the future: trends and unknowns

I highly recommend this book to all. In fact, i think this book should be a required reading for every citizen because energy is such an important factor in human life and economy, and assumes more importance in current times because of its relevance to sustainability. Added bonus that its an entertaining read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2014
An amazing amount of information compressed in less than two hundred pages. It would have helped to have more tables and charts to support the learning of the massive amount of data to be extracted from Mr Smil's prose. Would be interesting to see an updated edition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2013
Probably the most concise and comprehensive discussion I have found about of the idea of energy, the associated physics, and the way it is used in society, including the facts and figures.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A nice primer covering many different aspects of energy. This is the second book by this author that I have read, and I will be reading more...
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on December 11, 2014
short and handy
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2014
The book is well written and fairly comprehensive but starts to get outdated, especially related to solar energy and itse impact in The world.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2014
What I wanted
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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2007
This is an easy to follow guide for the beginner. You don't have to know calculus to follow the math. I daresay it could be a useful review for the more sophisticated reader.
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