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Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 29, 2011
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“Eye-opening micro-histories about American energy past, with an eye to the future...A well-told cautionary tale about the need for widespread renewable-energy production.”
“It’s refreshing to read a history book whose intent is to improve decisions in the present and near future…[An] able account of the very checkered history of green energy schemes in America…Madrigal has the best critique I’ve seen of the ‘appropriate technology’ philosophy promoted by my Whole Earth Catalog in the 1970s…[An] admirable book.”
“Madrigal rises above politics to review the surprisingly long and fruitful history of renewable energy in the U.S….He shows beyond a doubt that the past will lead the way to a greener future.”
“Part history of America’s use of green technologies, part history of our relationship with that technology, and part hope for the future…On all these counts, the book is successful…Recommended for general readers with an interest in America’s past, present, and future relationship with green technology.”
Bookforum, April/May 2011
“Madrigal seems to understand better than most writers on this topic that capitalism itself can be the great growth engine producing better and greener technology…Madrigal’s willingness to consider the many green-tech attempts of the past, most of them failed but so many of them fascinating, is a refreshing change from the doomsday scenarios so common in alternative-energy writing…His belief that solutions can be found, and that the past may hold the key to coming up with a better future, is salutary and most welcome.”
Internet Review of Books, 4/22/11
St. Petersburg Times, 4/17/11
“Inspiring…The first book to explore both the forgotten history and the visionary future of America’s green-tech innovators.”
“Well-thought-out ideas about how to advance low-cost green technology.”
“[An] eye opening and very engaging book…A celebration of the spirit of innovation and its many successes and failures…Well researched…Fascinating and thought provoking…This book will change the way you think about green technology, and its past, present, and future.”
Ode, June 2011
“Quirky stories about individuals whose past inventions, often failures, anticipated many contemporary environmental solutions.”
“What Madrigal's volume offers is a look at an array of technological innovations, some of them crackpot and some of them very likely alternatives, for how to produce energy in an environmentally sustainable manner. It is a history well worth knowing and exploring, to avoid reinventing the wheel anew with every innovation, as advances in green technologies need to be and will be ratcheted up.”
San Francisco Chronicle, 7/3/11
“An eye-opening history of green alternative energy that rises above politics to present a cautionary tale.”
“A 300+ page tour of the century-long history of renewable energy development in the United States, it amply shows that if you thought people only tried to develop green technology in the past few decades you're sorely mistaken…A fascinating read.”
About the Author
Discover books for all types of engineers, auto enthusiasts, and much more. Learn more
More About the Author
Madrigal is a visiting scholar at University of California, Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Washington, DC.
Top Customer Reviews
From the beginning, this book project has been, to my knowledge, utterly unique: a view on modern cleantech / clean energy through the lens of history. I just don't think it had occurred to many of us that clean energy -- which seems so newfangled -- had a long history. But in the pages of Powering The Dream we discover the earliest electric cars -- which were contemporaneous with the first conventional, gasoline-powered cars. There are old, even ancient, systems for harvesting wind, waves, tides; there's the first janky, not-quite-ready for prime time nuclear power plants.
Here's the nub of this book, the lesson we should all take to heart: the history of energy in this country, on this planet, even, is highly path dependent. In other words, governments and individuals made decisions to pursue some paths and not others. Renewables are hard, but for entirely different reasons, so are conventional sources of energy. By showing us a past full of failed (and occasionally, successful) experiments in harvesting energy from anyplace but the sunglight stored in fossil fuel reserves, Powering the Dream invites us to play what-if: What if we'd taken a different energy path.
In an age of climate change and dwindling supplies of (some) fossil fuels, Powering the Dream is a helpful, hopeful opposite to an awful lot of either groundlessly sunny optimism or dire predictions of collapse. It posits, simply, that the pool of technologies from which we can draw energy is bigger than we typically imagine, and that in the experiments of the past are the foundations of the energy sources of the future.
Where software and computing has been continually enhanced through reaffirmations of Moore's Law, will applying the same philosophy to energy lead to suffering Moore's curse? Though few advocating for an innovation based solution to climate change through access to the infinite power of the wind and sun realize they are echoing the words of an early 19th century techno-utopian they do so all the same, carrying John Etzler's biases and assumptions along with them. The innovative and shiny energy technologies touted by politicians and slick commercials as solutions to our ability to `win the future' have been with us for our history as a nation. We had electric cars with a streamlined swap-out infrastructure for fresh batteries at the end of the 19th century and megawatt scale wind turbines in the 1940s.
The history of fossil fuel alternatives reveal a world of missed opportunities and frustrating political shortsightedness.Read more ›
I liked Madrigal's analysis of the reasons behind the huge numbers of poorly insulated, poorly sited housing built in the American suburbs since World War II. Low initial cost was allowed to be the only important factor.
The book's main flaw is that it doesn't pay enough attention to the problems behind the failures of wind and solar power--energy density. There's a lot of wind energy and solar energy on earth, but it's not dense the way fossil fuels are. It's possible to make industrial machines to convert wind and solar energy into electrical power, but building the machines takes power. If building the machines takes more power than can be obtained from the machines over their usable lifetime, this is not an energy source.
The energy lost in the conversion from solar or wind to electric power, lost again in transporting the electric power to the end user, and lost again in converting the electric power to run an appliance such as an electric heater or refrigerator, makes solar and wind power a very iffy proposition. The money and power required for building the solar panel or wind turbine also has to be subtracted out. Maybe there will be a breakthrough someday making it possible to build wind turbines or solar panels using very little money and very little power--but it is also possible that there might not be such a breakthrough.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Madrigal is a terrific author, as his work in The Atlantic reinforces on a regular basis. In Powering The Dream, he continues the tradition of investigative reporting spun with a... Read morePublished on March 20, 2013 by Daniel A. French
A great book with a lot of surprising historical detail that, in most cases, will be new to you. Alternative Energy had much more than just Tesla. Read morePublished on December 14, 2012 by Jeff Bennett
Shows you how the market can be so manipulative that even superior technology can fail. Recommended read if you are interested in green energy yet don't understand why it hasn't... Read morePublished on May 10, 2012 by JayLTX
I found this book to be well organized, with the 288 numbered pages of text divided into 27 chapters and grouped into 5 sections, making it easy to read a chapter at a time. Read morePublished on October 24, 2011 by S. Wright
This is an interesting book. Our past and its inventions, as reported by Madrigal's fresh look, were not familiar to me. Read morePublished on May 17, 2011 by Stephen C. Baer