A cleareyed and mostly neutral study of the price of America’s energy addictions.



An insider’s guide to the most controversial energy-production technique in the United States.

One of the most respected and practiced energy journalists in the United States, Gold (the Wall Street Journal) was most recently a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Here, the author delivers one of the first of a slate of books scheduled to tackle the provocative practice of hydraulic fracturing to mine natural gas, a process better known to most Americans as “fracking.” It’s a complex technique, and Gold gets deep into the science and engineering. Bookended by the story of his parents’ decision to sell fracking rights to their farm in rural Pennsylvania, Gold takes a coast-to-coast journey, interviewing energy moguls, roughnecks, mud men and market analysts to present a mostly comprehensive snapshot of the subject today. He also tells the story of the big personalities that drove the industry. There’s George Mitchell, the son of a Greek goatherd, who became the “father of fracking,” and Mitchell’s dark reflection in Aubrey McClendon, who rose to staggering heights and took a spectacular fall at the helm of Chesapeake Energy. There are also little terrors: the revelation that America experimented with fracking in the 1960s using nuclear weapons instead of fracking fluid; the shadowy deal between McClendon and Sierra Club leader Carl Pope to channel millions in gas money to fight big coal; the Anadarko Petroleum executive who suggested downloading the Army’s counterinsurgency manual to combat protests. The book is weighted toward the opinions of the pro-fracking side, but it’s a forgivable sin given Gold’s beat and the book’s thesis. Ultimately, he arrives at a rational middle ground, advocating fracking to bridge the gap between the age of oil and the arrival of clean energy. But he admits it may be too late: “I don’t fear fracking. I fear carbon.”

A cleareyed and mostly neutral study of the price of America’s energy addictions.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9228-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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