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Powering the Future: How We Will (Eventually) Solve the Energy Crisis and Fuel the Civilization of Tomorrow Hardcover – September 27, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0465022199 ISBN-10: 0465022197

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Frequently Bought Together

Powering the Future: How We Will (Eventually) Solve the Energy Crisis and Fuel the Civilization of Tomorrow + A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down + The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind
Price for all three: $50.82

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465022197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465022199
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Kirkus Reviews
“A work of intricate research free of hype, offering serious pros and cons with a sometimes whimsical flourish.” 

“An illuminating, ultimately hopeful perspective on energy policy.”
Library Journal
“a pragmatic, authoritative look into energy alternatives for general readers.”


Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal
“[Powering the Future] is written with cheerfully can-do brio and is full of fascinating calculations.... Mr. Laughlin brings a refreshing, upbeat outlook for our energy future.”

“[A] sardonic and vivid exercise in futurology.”
New Scientist
“Laughlin says many useful things with a pleasing directness.”


About the Author

Robert B. Laughlin is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Physics at Stanford University. In 1998 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the fractional quantum Hall effect. He is the author of The Crime of Reason and A Different Universe. He lives in Palo Alto, California.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A. Jogalekar TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the tradition of physicists writing for the layman, Robert Laughlin has emerged as a writer who pens unusually insightful and thought-provoking books. In his "A Different Universe" he explored the consequences and limitations of reductionism-based physics for our world. In this book he takes an equally fresh look at the future of energy. The book is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of existing and upcoming technologies; instead it's more like an assortment of appetizers designed to stimulate our thinking. For those who want to know more, it offers an impressive bibliography and list of calculations which is almost as long as the book itself.

Laughlin's thinking is predicated on two main premises. The first is that carbon sources are going to eventually run out or become inaccessible (either because of availability or because of legislation). However we will still largely depend on carbon because of its extraordinarily fortuitous properties like high energy density, safety and ease of transportation. But even in this scenario, simple rules of economics will trump most other considerations for a variety of different energy sources. The second premise which I found very intriguing is that we need to uncouple our thinking on climate change from that on energy instead of letting concerns about the former dictate policy about the latter. The reason is that planetary-level changes in the environment are so vast and beyond the ability of humans to control that driving a few more hybrids or curbing carbon emissions will have little effect on millennial events like the freezing or flooding of major continents.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas C. on September 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am an applied physicist actively working in the energy sector and reading energy books for the past six years, and Powering the Future was WELL WORTH the money and time spent reading it. The book is highly educational and thought provoking, with many surprising perspectives I had never considered. Laughlin's writing is easy to understand, entertaining, and fun to read. I especially appreciate that he makes clear what is known fact and what is his or others' speculations. Lastly, I loved seeing how a Nobel Prize winning physicist uses facts, physics, and reason to dissect this extremely complicated, highly interrelated set of problems into a series of solvable pieces.

Laughlin leaves political agenda behind to focus on the physics by resorting to a clever literary device: The book takes place 200 or so years in the future, after burning carbon based fossil fuels is no longer possible, either because they have been completely used up (his prediction) or because of carbon legislation. The technologies needed are the same in either case, but not necessarily what you might naively guess -- things get very different when carbon becomes expensive because it's no longer available in the concentrated underground deposits and we instead have to recover it from the air or ocean.

I rank this book amongst the most useful big picture energy books I have read, including:
The Prize by Daniel Yergin
Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air by David Mackay
Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawkins, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peter Ariessohn on August 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Having received a PhD from the institution where Prof. Laughlin teaches, I was quite dismayed and embarrassed to read his musings on our energy future. A better title for the book would be "Sophistry for dummies" as it offers examples of all forms of logical error and suggests that he thinks his readers are dummies.

Almost every page contains mistakes, half truths, unfounded conclusions, and other logical errors. Some examples of these numerous problems include the following:

1. Broad generalizations based on anecdotal evidence or on admitted fabrications:

Laughlin tells us that when he was a child, his father was fanatic about finding the cheapest gasoline for his car. He then says that when he travels abroad and talks to cab drivers, they express the same desire to find the cheapest gas they can. He tells us that this shows that economics will always trump all other considerations in people's decisions about the source of energy they choose. I guess that explains why we all heat our homes with coal.

He then goes on to say that he can just imagine some fellow in Bangladesh (or maybe it was India) who drives his new gas guzzling SUV up to the gas pump and smiles to himself as he thinks about all the people in the US who are driving fuel efficient cars since their parsimonious use of gas reduces overall demand for gas and reduces gas prices, allowing him to afford to fill up his tank. He tells us this fellow is representative of millions and millions of others just like him and that this demonstrates that environmental concerns won't make any difference in human behavior when it comes to making decisions about energy usage.
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