Most helpful positive review
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Delightful for nonbeginners
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%.