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Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties Hardcover – October 10, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


A wealth of very useful information about energy use, resources, and environmental and socioeconomic impact, and the author's unabashed but educated opinions about approaches to the future. Thought-provoking and highly worthwhile reading for both believers and unbelievers.

(Professor Noam Lior, Editor-in-Chief, ENERGY - The International Journal)

A thorough introduction to the subject and a thoughtful consideration of the conundrums it presents. Smil skillfully guidees readers through the forests and the trees.

(Foreign Affairs)

...[A] sweeping survey of global energy trends...

(Jeremiah Creedon Utne)

Energy at the Crossroads provides a highly accessible tour of the state of the energy world.

(Daniel M. Kammen Science)

Smil has the best macroscope of all current energy analysts.

(Jesse H. Ausubel , Director, Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University)

The most sober, thorough, and thoughtful integrated text on energy available, and it embodies core facts and some fundamental truths that any analyst of energy issues should ponder.

(Michael Grubb Nature)

...[Zeroes] in on the issue of reconciling the world's accelerating demand for energy...

(Peter D. Blair American Scientist)

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is the author of more than thirty books on energy, the environment, food, and the history of technical advances, including Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature, published by the MIT Press. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 443 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (October 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262194929
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262194921
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,037,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vaclav Smil is currently a Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. He completed his graduate studies at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Carolinum University in Prague and at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences of the Pennsylvania State University. His interdisciplinary research interests encompass a broad area of energy, environmental, food, population, economic, historical and public policy studies, and he had also applied these approaches to energy, food and environmental affairs of China.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Science Academy) and the first non-American to receive the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology. He has been an invited speaker in more than 250 conferences and workshops in the USA, Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa, has lectured at many universities in North America, Europe and East Asia and has worked as a consultant for many US, EU and international institutions. His wife Eva is a physician and his son David is an organic synthetic chemist.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 66 people found the following review helpful By F David Doty PhD on July 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
From his lifetime as an energy expert and prolific author, Smil writes insightfully about the major energy trends of the past century, and then he attempts to look into the future. He clearly presents, aided by dozens of well designed graphs, an enormous amount of information on global patterns for all energy sources and applications in an exceptionally well organized format. Clearly, Smil was an energy expert of the highest caliber of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, we are now four and a half years into the twenty first century, and it seems to have left Smil behind in a few places. Most of his data are actually pre-1999; and although a few references are dated 2002, almost none of the actual data are post-2000, even though the print date on the book is Nov. 2003. For example, the fact that he thinks there were tens of thousands of fuel cell vehicles on the road in 2003 gives away the fact that the book was largely written in 2001 using references mostly from the late nineties, some of questionable value. (Some "experts" at DOE as late as 1999 were predicting 10,000 FCVs on the road in 2003. Today, however, there are fewer than 400.) Yet, this does not significantly lessen the enormously valuable contribution of Smil's work.
Chapter 2 looks carefully at, in all major countries, a number of important linkages to energy, including such parameters as GDP, infant mortality, life expectancy, food availability, the "human development index", the "political freedom index", air quality, water quality, GHG emissions, war, and terrorism.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent overview of the energy picture with a thorough discussion of why predictions tend to fail. Before anyone gets too carried away with doomsday scenarios of impending energy crisis they should read this. Conversely, anyone not concerned about the state of our planet and our rate of energy consumption should also read this. Unfortunately, although the messages of the book are very appropriate for the common person, Smil's writing style may not be. His prose exudes a well educated elitism that at times can be stuffy and difficult to follow. (Or maybe I am just jealous because his command of the language is far superior to my own.)
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Stephen C. Baer on February 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover

Vaclav Smil

MIT Press 2003

A Book Review by Steve Baer (

December 2003

So many good things about Vaclav Smil's Energy at the Crossroads make it difficult to explain the shortcomings.

Smil's arguments are straightforward and his statistics, with one giant exception, are extensive.

He doesn't bring the false drama to his chapters on oil that so many authors are unable to resist. Smil knows a great deal about our use of fossil fuels. Who should know more than he after over thirty years of study, yet he says he doesn't know how much more oil there is, or how long it will last. Smil is skeptical of such pronouncements. His long chapter on "against forecasting" is alone worth the price of the book. Our relationship with energy is simply too complex for us to see into the future. Some may not wish to read books like this. After all, isn't it easy to say, "I don't know and don't think anyone else does either"?

I am so glad for the few sentences Smil writes about himself, about his youth in Czechoslovakia. He tells of splitting the mountains of firewood during the summer which he lights (with difficulty) before dawn in the winter; about the oil furnace and now the 90% efficient natural gas stove that supplies any heat the sun doesn't for his passive solar home in Manitoba.

Energy at the Crossroads lifts up and away from its numbers and graphs. The joy of the hot-rodder or jet pilot appears many times as Smil recounts how we have arrived at our turbo jets, our 500 kW households (including vehicles), our enormous oil tankers, so effective that shipping costs hardly change with distance. These certainly are accomplishments to revel in, and Smil does.
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By Graybeard on December 31, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you liked Vaclav Smil's "Energy: A Beginner's Guide" and "Oil: A Beginner's Guide," you'll love this book, which is much broader and deeper and more interdisciplinary than those two primers. This is an excellent text on energy for students, educators, business people, legislators, government officials and ordinary citizens who want to be energy-literate. This 428-page book (373 pages of narrative) contains 136 helpful charts and diagrams, and an excellent bibliography. Highly recommended.
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By Michael Schilmoeller on October 22, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Smil makes a powerful case for planning without forecasting. Uncertainty does not imply inaction, and the most important plans we make are sometimes the ones that do not get implemented.
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