Energy in World History

Front Cover
Westview Press, 1994 - Science - 300 pages
2 Reviews
Every human activity entails the conversion of energy. Changes in the fundamental sources of energy, and in the use of energy sources, are a basic dimension of the evolution of society. Our appreciation of the significance of these processes is essential to a fuller understanding of world history.Vaclav Smil offers a comprehensive look at the role of energy in world history, ranging from human muscle-power in foraging societies and animal-power in traditional farming to preindustrial hydraulic techniques and modern fossil-fueled civilization. The book combines a vast historical sweep with cross-cultural comparisons and is enhanced by illustrations and accessible quantitative material. Students and general readers alike will gain an understanding of energy’s fundamental role in human progress.Smil illuminates the role played by various means of harnessing energy in different societies and provides new insights by explaining the impact and limitations of these fundamental physical inputs—whether it is in the cultivation of crops, smelting of metals, waging of war, or the mass production of goods. While examining the energetic foundations of historical changes, Energy in World History avoids simplistic, deterministic views of energy needs and recognizes the complex interplay of physical and social realities.

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Review: Energy In World History

User Review  - Josef Kreitmayer - Goodreads

the social sciences tend to act as if the social sphere would be operating in some enclosed universe. The book gives a good insight, how the use of energy and the availability of energy ressources was ... Read full review


Flows Stores and Controls
Complexities and Caveats
Foraging Societies
Routes to Intensification
Persistence and Innovation
Limits of Traditional Farming
water from a shaft
The Great Transition
Technical Innovation
Unprecedented Power and Its Uses
Consequences and Concerns
Between Determinism and Choice
Basic Measures

Household Needs
Transportation and Construction
Power in History
About the Book and Author

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Page 2 - It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount. It is not that way. However, there are formulas for calculating some numerical quantity, and when we add it all together it gives "28
Page 148 - He, being about to expend his skill and labor on this matter, first throws charcoal into the crucible and sprinkles over it an iron shovelful of crushed iron ore mixed with unslaked lime. Then he repeatedly throws on charcoal and sprinkles it with ore, and continues this until he has slowly built up a heap; it melts when the charcoal has been kindled and the fire violently stimulated by the blast of the bellows, which are skillfully fixed in a pipe.
Page 158 - Nature, in providing us with combustibles on all sides, has given us the power to produce, at all times and in all places, heat and the impelling power which is the result of it.
Page 148 - The hearth is three and a half feet high, and five feet long and wide ; in the centre of it is a crucible a foot deep and one and a half feet wide, but it may be deeper or shallower, wider or narrower, according to whether more or less ore is to be made into iron. A certain quantity of iron ore is given to the master, out of which he may smelt either much or little iron. He being about to expend his skill and labour on this matter, first throws charcoal into the crucible, and sprinkles over it an...
Page 115 - There was a time when the trees were luxuriant on the Ox Mountain. As it is on the outskirts of a great metropolis, the trees are constantly lopped by axes. Is it any wonder that they are no longer fine? With the respite they get in the day and in the night, and the moistening by the rain and dew, there is certainly no lack of new shoots coming out, but then the cattle and sheep come to graze upon the mountain.
Page 188 - This is a sad hoax, for industrial man no longer eats potatoes made from solar energy; now he eats potatoes partly made of...
Page 2 - EXF2 P2 and we get the second law of cultural development: Other things being equal, the degree of cultural development varies directly as the efficiency of the technological means with which the harnessed energy is put to work. It is obvious, of course, that E and F may vary simultaneously, and in the same or in opposite directions. If E and F increase simultaneously P will increase faster, naturally, than if only one increased while the...
Page 171 - ... eventually controlling all organic activities, but its wholesale fabrication and its continued improvement were what alone could give meaning to human existence. Within a century or two, the ideological fabric that supported the ancient megamachine had been reconstructed on a new and improved model. Power, speed, motion, standardization, mass production, quantification, regimentation, precision, uniformity, astronomical regularity, control, above all control — these became the passwords of...
Page 138 - Africa until at last, in 1497, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and crossed the Indian Ocean to Hindustan.

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About the author (1994)

Vaclav Smil teaches at the University of Manitoba. He has written thirteen books, including Energy, Food, Environment: Realities, Myths, Options; General Energetics; and Global Ecology, Environmental Change, and Social Flexibility.

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