Industrial-Sized Deals Best Books of the Month Shop Women's Handbags Learn more nav_sap_plcc_6M_fly_beacon $5 Albums Fire TV Stick Off to College Essentials Shop Popular Services tmnt tmnt tmnt  Amazon Echo Starting at $99 Kindle Voyage GNO Shop Back to School with Amazon Back to School with Amazon Outdoor Recreation Deal of the Day
Profile for Simply Curious > Reviews


Simply Curious' Profile

Customer Reviews: 42
Top Reviewer Ranking: 166,360
Helpful Votes: 500

Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Simply Curious RSS Feed (Middletown, NJ USA)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain
Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain
by Steven D. Levitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.61
61 used & new from $7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Freak Out!, July 30, 2015
This is a quick and fun read. Talented storytelling brings alive well-tested techniques for problem solving in this third book in the Freakonomics series.

The Freakonomics team, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are well known for their unusual approach to analyzing and solving rather quirky problems. They enjoy challenging conventional wisdom and discovering surprising results. This book is dedicated to teaching us their problem solving approach rather than solving more problems. Learning to think like a freak may provide a fresh outlook on your own life.

Memorable stories illustrate each step in the process. We learn the best strategy for winning a soccer penalty kick, the value of feedback from field experiments, the dangers of dogmatism, how to win a hot dog eating contest, the power of M&M’s , the impact of drinking bacteria, and the value of fun.

Several stories about the price of wine, the power of advertising, and paying workers less show us how Freaks use evidence to debunk ideology.

Once revealed and understood, their process for solving problems is rather ordinary: 1) admit you don’t know the answer, 2) define the correct problem, 3) dig deeply to uncover the root cause, 4) think like a child to explore new viewpoints, 5) understand how incentives motivate, 6) use clever game theory approaches to “get your garden to weed itself” if you can. Additional chapters describe research from the Cultural Cognition Project on persuasion, and highlight the benefits of quitting.

The stories are fun to read, fun to know and fun to retell. The stories help make the process steps easier to understand and remember. Reading this book may make you a better problem solver.

Creating Change Through Humanism
Creating Change Through Humanism
by Roy Speckhardt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.99
13 used & new from $10.28

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Without God, June 29, 2015
This handbook for prospective humanists is an important resource for thoughtful people who are seeking real good. The book tells us what humanism is, why it makes sense, how it addresses real problems, and what we can do to create positive change.

American Humanist Association Executive director, Roy Speckhardt, declares “Humanism is the radical idea that you can be good without a belief in god” and goes on to demonstrate why this simple idea is so sensible and so powerful. Those who will enjoy this book are readers who prefer: science over dogma, common sense over obsolete texts, reality over mysticism, exploration over obedience, coherence over dissonance, inclusion over exclusion, evidence over ideology, and real humans over imagined deities.

The design of this book accommodates a wide range of readers’ readiness to accept and promote humanism. People new to humanism are provided a thorough and accessible introduction to the principles, philosophy, and application of this lifestance. Readers who may have already identified as humanists now have a comprehensive account of it. Experienced humanists who wish to advocate for their beliefs are provided with resources for taking action and creating change.

The second chapter begins with the author’s personal story of growing up Catholic, questioning dogma as a youngster, learning that many bible stories originated as pagan traditions, studying social ills rooted in ignorance, and starting his own progressive thinking website before joining the humanist movement. The chapter continues with the powerful stories of Dr. Anthony Pinn, and Dr. Janet Jeppson Asimov who describe their personal struggles to cross the Theistic divide and embrace Humanism.

Whereas religious beliefs are taught to us, chapter three describes a natural and innate basis for humanism. Research demonstrates that even very young children have a good sense of morality. Our reliance on careful analysis of the observable world is our most reliable source of knowledge not only within, but also beyond the bounds of scientific disciplines. Accepting the scientific process as the best method for determining all types of knowledge allows us to continue to build humanity’s knowledge base. Because empathy allows us to understand others’ feelings, it informs our reasoning toward doing the right thing.

Chapter 4 provides a history of the American Humanist Association, and chapter 5 describes the many very real prejudices against atheists. While these chapters are necessary for completeness, I found them a bit tedious primarily because they look back rather than move forward.

Humanism is marked by its positive approach, and chapter 6 provides an inspiring vision of a bright future that can be attained by applying the principles of Humanism. Many prejudices based on ignorance and sustained by religious fundamentalist will be overcome. “People will understand that science is a way to seek answers, not something to ‘believe’ in.” Future political leaders will position their belief systems in humanistic terms. “Humanists will encourage empathy, along with the compassion and a sense of inherent equal worth that flows from it, in a way that honors human knowledge about ourselves and our universe.” These ideas can become unifying forces.

Part II of the book applies the philosophical foundations of humanism to solving problems. These principles are described fully in the appendix Humanism and its Aspirations, and explored in chapter 7. Core humanist issues are explored in chapter 8. Here the contentious issues of civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, environment and population dynamics, church-state separation, death with dignity, and responsible scientific freedom are each analyzed from a humanist perspective. Clear thinking supports clear positions on each issue. Chapter 9 advises readers how to live as a humanist. Advice from a humanist perspective is provided on essential life issues, including: origin stories, family life, personal fulfillment, joy, free-will, death, and immortality. Chapter 10 is a guidebook for activism in politics, charity, social change, community, and advising young people. The final chapter strengthens the call to action, encouraging us to: “come out as humanists at every opportunity,” explain humanism to others, frame humanist positions in positive language, seek and mobilize allies, and raise public awareness.

The appendix includes three useful references: the third Humanist Manifesto describes the concepts and boundaries of humanism, the Ten Commitments provide guiding principles for teaching values, and a glossary defines several movement terms.

Although the basis of humanist philosophy is inherently universal and inclusive, this book addresses US-based readers. A bibliography provides useful references for further study, yet claims made throughout the book are not linked to supporting citations. The review copy lacks an index.

Start where you are, read this book, decide for yourself what you believe, and move forward. The book is thoughtfully conceived, well written, clearly argued, and backed by reliable evidence.

G7 Power Elko LED 15 Watt (75W) 1100 Lumen BR30 Recessed Light Bulb, Dimmable 2700K Warm White Light
G7 Power Elko LED 15 Watt (75W) 1100 Lumen BR30 Recessed Light Bulb, Dimmable 2700K Warm White Light
Offered by G7 Power
Price: $24.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Good choice when more light is needed., March 17, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Bright, compact, and dim-able. This bulb is a good choice when more brightness is needed in this form factor.

A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet
A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet
by Nancy Ellen Abrams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.07
52 used & new from $15.00

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seeking Real Good, March 10, 2015
This is one of the most intriguing books I have read in some time. It shows us a way forward toward a coherence that transcends the divisive religious doctrines that deny the well-established truths of the universe and the sterile scientific models that ignore or dismiss the power of spirituality.

Throughout history concepts of God have evolved to explain the workings of the universe as it is best understood. Historically theologians did their best to make their image of God consistent with the universe as they understood it to be. Today our understanding of the universe has advanced far beyond what the gods of traditional religions explain. These obsolete gods are holding people back. This book proposes a concept of god that is up-to-date with our present understanding of the universe.

The book emerges from a dilemma faced by the author. Because her husband is Joel Primack, a prominent physicist who studies the origins of the universe, she is conversant with the most up-to-date research describing the origins of the universe and its composition including dark energy and dark matter. Based on her husband’s research, she has total confidence in the accuracy of these scientific findings. She lived as an atheist most of her life. However, recently she has been able to recover from an addiction to overeating using the spiritual approach of a twelve-step program. She conceived of the higher power called for in the program as a “loving but unbullshitable witness to my thoughts.”

She abandons the tired question “Does God Exist?” as a hopeless distraction and instead pursues the question “Could anything actually exist in the universe, as science understands it, that is worthy of being called God?” The price of a real God is that we have to consciously let go of what makes it unreal.

Rejecting intelligence, tool making, and language as the defining characteristic of humans, she proposes that humans are unique because <i>we aspire to something more</i>. After illustrating the concept of emergence she presents the core thesis of the book: <i>God is endlessly emerging from the staggering complexity of all humanity’s aspirations across time</i>. God is all that drives us forward toward what we can be and what we want to be.

Chapters 4–6 making up part II of the book are somewhat contrived. Here she attempts to accommodate spirituality, prayer, and afterlife within her reality-based concept of God. These ideas are thought-provoking and worthy of more discussion, but not yet settled in my mind.

In Chapter 7 she gives practical suggestions for renewing and reinventing religion. After describing actions to bring religion into harmony with reality, she identifies three sacred goals: 1) to protect our extraordinary jewel of a planet, 2) to do our best for future generations, and 3) to identify with humanity’s story.

Chapter 8 outlines a “Planetary Morality.” Here she considers the essential question: “How can we individually expand our moral sense to care about our collective effects at size scales and timescales we are just beginning to grasp?” She presents eight high-level principles for good living informed from a global perspective.

This book is both poetic and scientific. Within a rigorous scientific framework she passionately discusses spirituality, prayer, love, identity, common bonds, heaven, and hell. “For the first time we can have a coherent picture of reality that meets our highest scientific standards, reveals unexplored terrain in ourselves, has a meaningful place for an awesome God, and frees our spirits to strike out with fervor—and not a moment too soon.”

Read this important and thought-provoking book. It is boldly conceived, well written, clearly argued, and backed by reliable evidence.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2015 6:07 AM PDT

KAVAJ iPad Air 2 leather case cover "Berlin" cognac brown - genuine leather with stand-up feature. Thin Smart Cover as premium accessory for the original Apple iPad Air 2
KAVAJ iPad Air 2 leather case cover "Berlin" cognac brown - genuine leather with stand-up feature. Thin Smart Cover as premium accessory for the original Apple iPad Air 2
Offered by KAVAJ_USA
Price: $59.90
5 used & new from $42.42

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful!, January 29, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This cover attains the high aesthetic standard set by the iPAD air 2 device itself. Beautiful natural leather, careful design, and sturdy construction result in a product that is a pleasure to look at and a joy to use.

Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
by Cass R. Sunstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.16
78 used & new from $13.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wiser Groups, January 29, 2015
When do groups make wise decisions? When do they may foolish decisions? What methods can help groups make wiser decisions? Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie explore these questions in this helpful book. Part one examines several systemic mechanisms that cause groups to fail. Part two describes approaches that help groups avoid these errors.

During deliberations, group pressures may cause members to agree on a falsehood rather than the truth. Incorrect information may cascade through the group and preempt sharing of important contradictory information known to individuals in the group. Similarly, social pressure to agree with the forming consensus may become more powerful than incentives to share individually held information that is different and important. As a result groups can amplify rather than correct errors, incorrect information that gets early support from the group can cascade through the group, groups can reinforce biases held by individual members and concentrate these views to form a group polarization, and groups can focus only on shared information—what everybody already knows —and suppress expression of unshared information. Despite the value of teamwork, a confident, cohesive, but error-prone group is nothing to celebrate. Group deliberation can produce both great confidence and grave error. As a result, groups are even more likely than individuals to escalate their commitment to a course of action that is failing.

The authors make an important distinction between statistical groups—those whose members are acting independently—and deliberating groups—where each member is influencing others in the group. Because statistical groups are not prone to cascades and group polarization, they often make wiser decisions than deliberating groups. Misfits make deliberating groups uncomfortable, but wise groups take steps to protect these skeptics.

Fortunately, part two of the book provides specific techniques for structuring group decisions to increase the likelihood of a wise outcome.

Group leaders must make clear that hearing the truth is more important than an appearance of group unity. Surfacing bad news, minority opinions, contrary information, difficult questions, and inconvenient truths are all essential to wise decision making. “Wise leaders embrace a particular idea of what it means to be a team player: not to agree with the majority’s current view, but to add valuable information.” Unrealistic optimism early in the deliberations suppresses contrary but essential information; the time for optimism is after the decision has been made.

The authors describe eight approaches to leading wiser groups: 1) inquisitive and self-silencing leaders, 2) encouraging critical thinking while discouraging happy talk, 3) rewarding group success over individual contribution, 4) assigning distinct roles to individuals in the group, 5) changing perspective, 6) requiring devil’s advocates 7) forming red teams that are responsible for challenging or even defeating the group, and 8) the Delphi method.

When seeking a solution, it is important to separate the divergent thinking stages—identifying alternatives and potential solutions—from the convergent stages where the final solution is selected from among several alternatives. These tasks require very different thinking styles and work best when focused on separately.

Cost-benefit analysis and reliance on data provide valuable checks on both individual and group errors. Choose experts based on their proven ability to make winning bets on the future, rather than their popularity, charm, and storytelling skills. Combine the forecasts of several experts whenever possible. Carefully designed tournaments and prediction markets can be particularly effective in obtaining a wise outcome from many of participants.

Finally, a combination of traits called “Factor-C” reliably predicts team players who can come to a wise decision. These people rely on their high general IQ, exceptional emotional intelligence, and feminine sensitivities to bring forward the best in the groups they are part of.

The arguments throughout the book are well reasoned and clearly presented, relevant evidence supports and illustrates each claim, the book is well written and a pleasure to read. Practicing these group skills can help us bring wisdom to life. Certainly our democracy, business teams, organizations, and other groups can benefit from the observations and advice in this book.

DIAGRAMS & DOLLARS: Modern Money Illustrated
DIAGRAMS & DOLLARS: Modern Money Illustrated
Price: $1.50

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Debt to Whom?, May 15, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The specter of the United States national debt rapidly growing past $17 trillion elicits fear in many of us. Congress has threatened to shut down the government rather than raise the national debt ceiling. Politicians publically lament the crushing debt burden we are placing on our grandchildren. A national debt clock stokes our anxiety as it ticks away on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. But to whom is this onerous debt owed?

The federal deficit is manifest as treasury bonds held within the private sector. Also, with the gold standard and the Brenton Woods agreement no more than distant memories, the Federal Government is free to issue currency constrained only by concerns for inflation. The federal deficit is nothing like household debt. Beginning with these facts the book derives and defends several surprising characteristics of the U.S. national economy and develops a logical progression of clear illustrations to correctly represent the national economy.
+ Money is created only by the federal government, not by the private sector. “By law, a U.S. Dollar can only be created –printed or issued electronically—by the U.S. sovereign government.”
+ The Federal Government buys its public goods and services from the private sector.
+ Federal taxes drain Dollars from the private sector and destroys them. The U.S. Dollar actually is “simply a promise, by the U.S. sovereign government, that it will accept the Dollar as payment for a Dollar’s worth of taxes.”
+ The U.S. government “promises only to accept the Dollar in exchange for the cancellation of a Dollar’s worth of taxes due.”
+ This promise is what allows Dollars to be widely accepted as an exchange medium.
+ Selling Treasury Bonds moves Dollars from Private Sector spending accounts into private sector savings accounts. While these Dollars are being saved in the form of Treasury Bonds they are not being used by the private sector to purchase goods and services.
+ The Federal Government transfers interest payments due on treasury bonds into spending accounts within the private sector.
+ Spending by the public sector at a rate beyond what the real economy can produce leads to inflation.
+ Spending Dollars created by the Federal Government pays the private sector for creating public goods and services.
+ Dollars the Federal Government spends are not dollars it has to earn—they are Dollars the Federal Government simply issues.
+ The “National Debt” is manifest as Treasury Bonds held by the Public Sector. Therefore The numbers displayed by the “National Debt Clock” are more accurately described as the “National Savings Clock.”

The implications of these considerations are profound:
+ The idea of balancing the federal budget is baseless.
+ Spending by the U.S. Treasury is not constrained by revenue collected as taxes.
+ The primary constraint on the public goods we can have is inflation resulting from exceeding the capacity of our real economy to produce goods and services.

Although this short book is little more than an essay, it rocked my world, turned my thinking upside down, and caused me to question several basic economic assumptions I have held for a long time.

The arguments presented seem sound, but the conclusions are so unconventional that the book deserves to spend time addressing inevitable questions and objections. Could student loans be offered interest free? Can the national debt grow without limits or consequences? Can we eliminate taxes? Can the Federal Government readily provide each of us with a generous citizen’s dividend? Could we end poverty with a few pen strokes? Is this all too good to be true?

“If at first the idea is not absurd” Albert Einstein once remarked, “then there is no hope for it.” Enjoy an hour reading this short, clearly written, and thought provoking Introduction to Modern Money Theory and decide for yourself if there is any hope for the ideas it presents.

Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition
Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition
by Charles Eisenstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.73
69 used & new from $12.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prosperity Lost, December 16, 2013
Author Charles Eisenstein begins this bold and well written book examining why innovation, labor saving devices, and all of the earth's bounty fail to deliver prosperity to most of the people. "After centuries of technological advances, why do we find ourselves working just as much as ever?" he asks, before observing: "For centuries, futurists have predicted an imminent age of leisure. Why has it never happened? The reason is that, at every opportunity, we have chosen to produce more rather than to work less. We have been helpless to choose otherwise."

Money is created as interest bearing debt. When the interest rate is greater than zero, the debt always exceeds the available money. Servicing the resulting debt requires constant economic growth. Growing the economy requires transforming something that began as a gift from nature or the community into something that can be sold. Nature becomes transformed into commodities and monetized.

As a result, "A larger and larger proportion of income goes toward the servicing of debt, and when that does not suffice, preexisting assets are collateralized and then seized until there are none left."

But we are already deeply into overshoot. Financial overshoot is manifest as the aggregate of government, institutional, and personal debt. Ecological overshoot is manifest as global warming, air and water pollution, waste dumps, deforestation, desertification, aquifer depletion, natural resource consumption, depleted fisheries, and other depletions of common resources.

The commons, including land, forests, fresh air, clean water, ocean fisheries, minerals, biodiversity, the genome, and the electromagnetic spectrum, all existed prior to human activities. There is no legitimate right to any private ownership claim to these natural resources. Yet these common assets are continually privatized and monetized to support economic growth. Public goods are privately claimed and sold. Corporations profit at the public's expense.

Income distribution becomes increasingly unequal. Those who have been able to profit from accumulating money, holding land, or exploiting other commons accrue great wealth. Others are forced to compete for fewer jobs offering unsatisfying work at low wages. The work force is divided into the frenzied and overworked "haves" and the unemployed or underpaid "have not's". Well-being suffers for all. The author makes clear: "The more monetized society is, the more anxious and hurried its citizens"

As we dedicated our lives to growing the economy Eisenstein remarks: "Each tree cut down and made into paper, each idea captured and made into intellectual property, each child who uses video games instead of creating worlds of the imagination, each human relationship turned into a paid service, depletes a bit of the natural, cultural, spiritual, and social commons and converts it into money." The result is the constant erosion of social capital--a trusting relationship among community members that creates meaningful social networks. The author observes: "The commoditization of social relationships leaves us with nothing to do together but to consume."

Sacred economics rejects the many false assumptions of traditional economics to describe a system that is stable during degrowth, and encourages us to create more of what is truly valuable. Charles Eisenstein presents bold solutions to the systemic problems of today's economy, while describing how a transition to this sacred economy could take place.

He clearly states: "I will not mince words: in this book I am calling for economic degrowth, a shrinking of the economy, a recession that will last decades or centuries." Yet, because the assumptions that: 1) growth is good and 2) growth is unlimited are both false, sacred economics enables prosperity during economic degrowth.

His solution is an economic system that integrates these seven features:

1. Negative-Interest Currency-- "Because of interest, at any given time the amount of money owed is greater than the amount of money already existing." Because the interest rate establishes the minimum growth rate of the economy, negative interest rates are needed to allow a decrease in monetization.

2. Elimination of Economic Rents, and Compensation for Depletion of the Commons--Because there is no legitimate claim to private ownership of the commons, private seizure or exploitation of the commons must end and users must pay the public for private use or depletion of the commons. "Generalized, the principle is, `The use of anything for money will increase the supply of that thing.'" Choosing to back money by use of the commons will increase the supply of those commons.

3. Internalization of Social and Environmental Costs-- "Money as we know it ultimately rests on converting the public into the private" Today, pollution and other forms of environmental degradation generate costs that are usually borne by society and future generations, not the polluters. This unfair private gain from exploitation of public assets must be reversed to discourage pollution and environmental degradation. "Whatever form it takes, an essential purpose of government--maybe the essential purpose of government--is to serve as the trustee of the commons"

4. Economic and Monetary Localization--True cost accounting favors local commerce. "When production and economic exchange are local, the social and environmental effects of our actions are much more obvious, reinforcing our innate compassion."

5. The Social Dividend--Earth's bounty and the accumulation of thousands of years of technological advances are public wealth. The benefits must be distributed as a social dividend to increase the well-being of all the earth's people. "Mathematically, if money is subject to diminishing marginal utility, the optimal distribution of money is: as equitably as possible."

6. Economic Degrowth--As technology continues to advance we can choose to work less or, more accurately, to work less for money. "Here is a certainty: the linear conversion of resources into waste is unsustainable on a finite planet. More unsustainable still is exponential growth, whether of resource use, money, or population."

7. Gift Culture and P2P economics--"When every economic relationship becomes a paid service, we are left independent of everyone we know and dependent, via money, on anonymous, distant service providers. That is a primary reason for the decline of community in modern societies, with its attendant alienation, loneliness, and psychological misery. Moreover, money is unsuited to facilitate the circulation and development of the unquantifiable things that truly make life rich."

Chapter 17 provides a brief summary and roadmap of these transformational ideas. Although these ideas are bold and fundamentally transformational, encouraging transition scenarios are presented. For example:
+ Interest rates have already dropped to near zero.
+ The Alaska Permanent Fund, established in 1976, sets aside a certain share of oil revenues to continue benefiting current and all future generations of Alaskans.
+ Open source software and projects such as Wikipedia make valuable intellectual property freely available to all.
+ Internet sites such as Craigslist displaced billions of dollars in classified advertising while encourage the continuing flow and reuse of goods.
+ Time Banking encourages people to exchange services based on time spent.
+ Disintermediation has reduced the cost of many services such as travel agencies, secondary research, book stores, and music distribution. Many artists, including authors, musicians, movie producers, photographers, and painters create and distribute their works directly to consumers over internet sites.

This book is full of good ideas for transforming the obsolete elements of our economic systems into a truly modern economy. Credible evidence and clear thinking bolsters each argument. The book is well written. Plan to spend time reading and re-reading this book to fully grasp the many ideas it presents.

There are some sections of the book that are too mystical and spiritual for my tastes. Perhaps I am too literal and shortsighted to fully grasp these concepts, the concepts are ahead of their time, or they are based on wishful thinking. I suspended judgment on these sections and enjoyed the many well-presented ideas the book offers.

The author strives to put his ideas into practice; the full text of the book is available online as a gift. Readers are asked to pay whatever they feel the book is worth to them.

Capitalism has had a good run and provided many benefits. So has the steam engine. Although both originated a few centuries ago, the steam engine has long since been superseded by more advanced technologies. Perhaps the time to supersede capitalism with a more advanced and sacred economy has arrived.

SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future (MacSci)
SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future (MacSci)
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shunned Superfuel, October 9, 2013
What would we do if we could find a fuel that was abundant, clean, and safe? Unfortunately it seems we would shun its use for decades, largely so we could build nuclear submarines and increase our stockpile of nuclear weapons. The silvery-white metal thorium is number 90 on the periodic table of elements, two positions from its more famous cousin uranium. Of all the known energy sources on Earth, thorium is the most abundant, most readily available, cleanest, and safest element. Richard Martin tells the intriguing story of how thorium has been discounted as a nuclear fuel in favor of uranium and how it can become a green energy source for the future.

After President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his "Atoms for Peace" speech to the UN General Assembly on December 8, 1953, the United States launched the "Atoms for Peace" program intended to educate the American Public to the risks and opportunities of a nuclear future. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory, originally established to produce plutonium for the first nuclear bomb, turned its attention to peaceful uses of atomic energy. Oak Ridge research on a thorium-based liquid core nuclear power plant, useful for generating electric power, is described in an obscure 945-page long engineering book published in 1958.

Thorium is about four times as abundant as uranium; the United States has about 440,000 tons of thorium reserves. Used properly, thorium is much safer and far cleaner than uranium. Thorium decays so slowly it can almost be considered stable; it's not fissile (able to sustain a nuclear chain reaction on its own), but it is fertile, meaning that it can be converted into a fissile isotope of uranium, U-233. The thorium fuel cycle results in a smaller amount of nuclear waste and less hazardous waste than do today's uranium-fueled reactors. Liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) can act as breeders, producing as much fuel as they consume. Because a LFTR is inherently stable and the liquid fuels can be readily drained from the reactor core, a meltdown is physically impossible.

Martin summarizes: "Thorium could provide a clean and effectively limitless source of power while allaying all public concerns--weapons proliferation, radioactive pollution, toxic waste, and fuel that is both costly and complicated to process."

The story unfolds in these chapters:

+ The Lost Book of Thorium Power--describing recent attention to the original thorium reactor work of the Oak Ridge Lab,

+ The Thunder Element--describing thorium's various characteristics,

+ The Only Safe Reactor--detailing the operation, dangers, use, and costs of various reactor design options,

+ Rickover and Weinberg--describing the tension between atoms for war and atoms for peace that resulted in the development of nuclear submarines and nuclear weapons. First as research director and then as overall director of the Oak Ridge labs, Alvin Weinberg advocated development of a molten salt reactor fueled by thorium. Admiral Hyman Rickover favored conventional solid-core uranium-based light water reactors, which as a by-product produced plutonium that can be refined for nuclear weapons. Martin laments: "Uranium's victory was a triumph of military uses of science and technology over humanistic ones, of the Pentagon over the scientific community, bureaucracy over individual initiative, technological stasis over inspiration and innovation."

+ The Birth of Nuclear power--The nuclear submarine Nautilus was launched in 1954. In less than a decade Rickover built and launched ten nuclear subs, carrying the nuclear showdown to the most remote waters of the world. Yet the design for a Molten Salt Reactor fueled by thorium has remained dormant since 1959. The nuclear power industry would base their designs on the uranium-fueled reactors developed to power nuclear submarines and produce plutonium.

+ The End of Nuclear Power-- Funding cuts to the Oak Ridge laboratory in 1957 eventually ended their promising research and experimentation with thorium-fueled reactors. The dangers of uranium-fueled reactors went on to make international headlines. The Three Mile Island accident was a partial meltdown which occurred on March 28, 1979. On April 26, 1986 an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere which then spread over much of western USSR and Europe. The Fukushima Nuclear Power plant, damaged by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, lost coolant, melted down, and released radioactive materials. The plant is not yet secured. No reactor ordered after 1973 was ever brought into operation the US.

+ The Asian Nuclear Power Race--India is the only country in the world with a detailed, funded, government-approved plan to base its nuclear power industry on thorium-fueled reactors. India plans to build as many as 62 (needlessly complex) nuclear reactors by 2025, and most of those reactors will be running on thorium. At a Shanghai scientific conference in February 2011 China officially announced that it will begin a program to develop a thorium-fueled molten salt reactor. The People's Republic of China plans to develop and control intellectual property with regard to thorium for its own benefit.

Thorium ore is a byproduct of mining rare earth elements. Supplies of this ore are accumulating in China which now controls 97 percent of the rare earth market. In the United States the thorium ore must be disposed of as toxic waste.

+ Nuclear' s Next Generation--The Generation IV International Forum is a collaboration of a dozen governments studying and recommending designs for advanced nuclear reactors. One of the six designs they are now considering is a thorium-fueled molten salt reactor.

+ The Business Crusade--Several business ventures around the world recognize the potential of thorium-based reactors. These ventures require funding approaching billions of dollars and time frames of many years, and they are often hampered by government regulations. Viable developments will probably require government partnering with private industry to sustain the substantial long-term effort required.

+ What We Must Do--Public perception of Nuclear energy options must shift, the public must perceive an accurate and objective assessment of the relative safety of nuclear energy when compared to alternatives, limited government support is necessary, and the transformation must draw on the competitive advantages of the United States. Government subsidies need to be shifted from supporting fossil fuels to supporting thorium LFTR development.

Martin is no Pollyanna, and he recognizes that thorium is no panacea. He does describe objections to the use of thorium. These include market barriers, difficulties with waste management and nuclear proliferation, and the traditionalist argument that "if it is so good it would already be in use".

Martin is a science journalist and good storyteller. The book is written at an intermediate technical level. If you stayed awake during high school chemistry class you will be able to follow the technical details. In any case you will enjoy the many stories of misfortune, short sightedness, and folly that have conspired to prevent thorium from being used as a clean, safe, reliable, and abundant fuel.

A total energy solution will prevent global warming, reduce toxic waste and pollution, reduce energy costs, preserve our wilderness areas, increase safety, and disentangle our economy and foreign policy from oil. Perhaps thorium can become an important part of that energy solution. I am writing to my congressman and senators to ask their support for thorium-based energy solutions. I encourage you to do the same.

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance
The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance
by William McDonough
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.81
105 used & new from $5.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's Next?, June 27, 2013
Waste does not occur within natural systems. The materials expelled by one organism are precisely the nutrients needed by some other organism. This creates a complex web where materials are reused endlessly, without degradation. There is, of course, an unfortunate exception to this, that being modern humans' expenditure of materials. The upcycle challenges us to learn from nature and design products and systems that recycle materials endlessly without degradation while they derive energy from renewable sources.

"The goal of the upcycle is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world with clean air, water, soil, and power--economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed." This book builds on and extends the authors' previous work, including their book Cradle to Cradle and the Hanover Principles prepared for the 2000 world's fair in Germany.

Although achieving the upcycle goal requires extensive hard work, we can each begin now by stating our intention: "We will be renewably powered as soon as it is cost-effective, and we will constantly seek it out." Design for abundance, proliferation, and delight.

The authors contend that "Human beings don't have a pollution problem; they have a design problem." We need to learn to design for an endless cradle to cradle cycle, not a one-time trip from cradle to grave. Design so the materials live on indefinitely, rather than being lost in landfills forever. Design is the first signal of human intention, and why should designers intend to inflict harm?

When materials are designed to differentiate between the biosphere and the technosphere they can live on as nutrients forever. Materials native to the natural world can cycle throughout that world without harm or degradation. But metals, plastics, and other materials not continuously created by the biosphere are essential to manufacturing electronics, industrial products, and many consumer products. These materials can cycle throughout the technical world without degradation. The key to upcycling is to design products so that technosphere materials and biosphere materials are not mixed. This eliminates the often difficult process of separating them at the time of disposal.

Consider the simple example of a juice box constructed of aluminum, plastics, and raw paper. Because biosphere and technosphere materials are combined, the box cannot be recycled until these materials are separated. Separation of these materials after product construction and use is very difficult. As a result, valuable aluminum is lost to landfills rather than being recovered as a nutrient within the technosphere.

Safety regulations and warning labels alert us to poor designs. They each identify an opportunity to redesign a harmful product, beginning with the Hanover Principles and cradle to cradle concepts that results in a safe, elegant, and ecologically beneficial product. Think first of what's next for each material used in the product. Use only materials that can live on as nutrients, without degradation, after they have completed their service in this product.

The book goes well beyond platitudes and wishful thinking by providing many examples of designs that are successful ecologically, aesthetically, and economically. The book describes a path that transcends the false dichotomy of profit vs. environment and shows us how to have both. It tells us what to do--begin each design by asking "what's next" for each material--rather than what not to do. We can do more good--creating a safe and healthful abundance--not just less bad.

To complement the perpetual cycles of material use they also advocate obtaining renewable energy from a combination of solar, wind, and biogas sources, along with designs that conserve energy. They also describe farming techniques and municipal systems that recycle nutrients to maintain clean water and fertile soils without artificial augmentation.

A letter from Thomas Jefferson written to James Madison in 1789 introduces us to the unusual word "usufruct". Usufruct is the right to enjoy property owned by others as long as the property is returned undamaged. This is the common courtesy you would extend to a neighbor who lent you their car or lawn mower. Indeed, as Thomas Jefferson said "the earth belongs in usufruct to the living." We can meet our obligations to preserve the earth during our visit without inflicting damage if we create each design by valuing equity, ecology, and revenue generation from the start. Quality in products and systems means they do not harm people, narrow their possibilities for life and liberty, or reduce their quality of life. We can redesign, renew, and regenerate to meet these goals.

This book tells us how we can leave the world a better place that we found it. That is the upcycle, learning to improve the world through better design rather than merely striving to minimize our impact on the world. We upcycle when we create products that are more perfect, rather than less burdensome. It is only fair to future generations that we learn these lessons now.

Read this book and plan for what's next, because the future will surely come.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5