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The Conundrum Paperback – February 7, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1594485619 ISBN-10: 9781594485619 Edition: Original

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"After Green Metropolis, a revelatory exposition of why urban life is 'green,' Owen---brisk, funny, elucidating, and blunt---illuminates a wide spectrum of environmental misperceptions in this even more paradox-laden inquiry." ---Booklist Starred Review --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

David Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of a dozen books. He lives in northwest Connecticut with his wife, the writer Ann Hodgman, and their two children.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Original edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781594485619
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594485619
  • ASIN: 1594485615
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

David Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a contributing editor of Golf Digest, and he is the author of a dozen books. He lives in northwest Connecticut with his wife, the writer Ann Hodgman. Learn more at www.davidowen.net or (if you're a golfer) at www.myusualgame.com.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 32 customer reviews
"The Conundrum" is a fascinating read.
Andrew Desmond
We buy high-efficiency light bulbs and save energy and then buy more appliances that use energy.
Eva F. Kosinski
This book is clearly written and well argued.
Richard Mckenzie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By J. Ruscio on February 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
David Owen writes clearly, concisely, and insightfully about environmental challenges and the inadequacy of most proposed remedies. Owen explains the direction in which a society would have to move to become truly "green" (think NYC, not Vermont) and he also candidly admits that most people--including him and his wife--do not choose to live in those ways. Mainstream environmental beliefs and practices are examined, and Owen argues that many are either less helpful than widely believed or counterproductive. Research is complemented by anecdotes, including personal revelations that underscore Owen's appreciation for the difficulties involved in attempting to persuade (or coerce) people into making significant lifestyle changes, let alone genuine sacrifices. Though short on practical solutions, this book is highly recommended for anyone interested in considering the complexities encountered when confronting environmental challenges to do good rather than merely to feel good.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stephen T. Hopkins VINE VOICE on April 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
If you're pretty smug about the ways in which you're green: recycling, locavore, hybrid, etc., be sure to avoid reading David Owen's book, The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse. Owen's basic premise is that we turn efficiencies into increased consumption and thereby make our problems worse. These usage changes don't lead to sustainability. The conundrum entails our inability, thus far, to commit to taking steps that would actually make a lasting difference on a global scale. According to Owen, we need to find ways globally to live smaller, closer to each other, and to drive less. Readers who enjoy gathering a broader perspective on issues are those most likely to enjoy this book.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Adam on February 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
David Owen does a fantastic job of highlighting some of the logical errors people choose to make regarding their energy use. He discusses the full-spectrum of decisions all the way from an individual's daily drive to work all the way to the grand plans of governments to make "green" transportation networks and cities.

Each of the chapters presents a different approach to the same fundamental problem: energy efficiency is not a means to reduce overall energy use. He takes a scientific approach using data and examples from the real world, and adds in his unique humor and anecdotes to make the painful truth easier to digest.

It's definitely worth a read and serious consideration, but if you choose to pick it up, be willing to be objective because it challenges some of the basic assumptions and beliefs of average Americans.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Oliver on June 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
The net effect of increasing the mileage efficiencies of our cars is that we drive them more, and we end up polluting even more (per person) than when driving was more costly or more difficult. The situation is similar for many products, notably air conditioners. By making them cheaper, every has them and people forget how to handle the heat without one.

This book expands these and a few other ideas over some 250 pages. As expected, there is some story telling, and they're told fairly well, but they just aren't that interesting. This book would make a great 10 page article or essay, and hopefully it will some day become one.

It's probably better to get this from the library and read just a few chapters.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Reid on June 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is a broad critique of environmentalism, in particular the idea that increased efficiency is a solution to environmental ills. Owen's argument is based around Jevons Paradox, which is described in the book as "Promoting energy efficiency without doing anything to constrain overall energy consumption will not cause overall energy consumption to fall." Owen gives examples such as how increased efficiency of cars simply leads to people driving further and also acts as an enabler of greater consumption.

Owen promotes the idea that residents of densely populated cities use less energy. This was the subject of another book he wrote, Green Metropolis (which I have not read). While there is certainly some truth to this argument it conveniently ignores how cities shift their demands for food production, waste disposal and other things elsewhere. This also highlights the weak point of this book -- it largely consists of the author asserting his opinions without engaging in detailed research. References and endnotes are conspicuously absent from the book.

Despite this weakness the book does challenge many of the key tenets of environmentalism. It is useful for encouraging much needed debate and discussion. There is still a large amount of truth in its arguments even if it lacks references.

(Originally published at David reads books.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Davis on March 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
The Conundrum is one of the best books of the year. Owen, sincerely concerned about the environment, nonetheless punctures a number of popular environmental myths. Natural gas will not solve our carbon problem, eating organic food is not that beneficial, and (perhaps his main focus)energy efficiency does not equal less energy use. At a price of less than $9, this book is well worth buying.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dan Burcea on March 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very sensible idea concerning the real challenges of making meaningful changes toward a green society. However what would have been a great short essay makes for a boring repetitive 270 pages book.
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