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Grand Transitions: How the Modern World Was Made

4.6 out of 5 stars 193 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


"Vaclav Smil is my favorite author." -- Bill Gates, GatesNotes

"His book roams impressively around the globe and across five centuries as it asks big questions and searches for big answers. . . .His five-pack of grand transitions encompasses population, agriculture and diets, energy, economy, and environment. . . . anyone who hasn't read about these subjects since graduation will be awestruck by the amount of research that has gone into these vaguely familiar stories. Smil pulls recent studies together, throws in a few of his own, offers interpretive twists, and fills his account with delicious nuggets of information. (This book actually got me in trouble at home, as I kept asking my family, "Did you know..." about some gem of an anecdote.)" -- Andre Schmid, Literary Review of Canada

"No one writes about the great issues of our time with more rigor or erudition than Vaclav Smil.
Grand Transitions is at once sweeping, sobering, and profoundly informative."
--Elizabeth Kolbert, author of
The Sixth Extinction, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"An expert portrait of spectacular technical and economic advances that many in the 21st century enjoy but which exclude large segments of the population and are creating problems that may or may not be solvable. Ingenious, insightful, and disturbing."--

"Underpinned by mesmerizing data and deep analysis,
Grand Transitions provides a clear and compelling framework for thinking about the future of energy, the environment, and the economy. A feast for anyone interested in the future of energy. A must read."--Atul Arya, Chief Energy Strategist, IHS Markit

Grand Transitions is the epitome of excellence in integrative systemic scientific analysis, anchored in a magisterial exploration of the main five transitions of mankind since civilizations emerged. And it provides a healthy antidote to the wishful thinking so prevalent today. Decision makers and the public should educate themselves with this authoritative evaluation, which will shape their decisions on how to ensure a harmonious, sustainable future for all."--Didier Sornette, Professor of Entrepreneurial Risks and Finance, ETH Zurich

"For a generation, polymath Vaclav Smil has expounded on the big patterns in energy, food, and other means through which humans have transformed their environment. In
Grand Transitions he has zoomed out even further to paint a picture of how the pieces fit together and to explain how the modern world works. In elegant prose with relentless attention to fact and reality-rare these days-he has written a masterpiece that forces you to think, disagree, wonder, and grapple with the accomplishments and challenges of today's industrial society."--David G. Victor, Professor of International Relations, University of California, San Diego

Grand Transitions, Vaclav Smil reminds us of the fundamental point that the economy cannot be untethered from nature. Technological ingenuity has loosened the links, but the outlook for economic gains--or losses--is inextricably tied to the dynamics of population change, and of food and energy production."--Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy, University of Cambridge

"Investing requires quantification of impact. But Vaclav Smil convincingly challenges the increased reliance on applying mathematical modelling to single-frame narratives. He steadily illustrates why such approaches seldom provide useful enough insights, as they tend to ignore technical constraints and biospheric limits."
--Philippe Rohner, Pictet Asset Management

"Smil offers a sweeping account of the deep material forces that have shaped the modern world... He tells a remarkable story of the human capacity to innovate, build, and integrate societies across vast distances."--
Foreign Affairs

"Smil is a conjurer with numbers. In
Grand Transitions, he works to show just how thoroughly this is now a planet of our making--and how rapidly the transformation is still happening."--Washington Post

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. The author of more than 40 books, he conducts interdisciplinary research in energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy. He has worked globally as a consultant and frequently delivers invited talks at conferences and workshops throughout the world.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Oxford University Press (March 1, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0190060662
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0190060664
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.55 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 9.1 x 1.3 x 6.4 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 193 ratings

About the author

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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

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
193 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 22, 2021
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Moni K
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on April 7, 2022
Andrew C
5.0 out of 5 stars Always amazing books from Professor Smil
Reviewed in Canada 🇨🇦 on March 9, 2021
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3.0 out of 5 stars Data Heavy
Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on January 6, 2022