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HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS by Vaclav Smil Kirkus Star


The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

by Vaclav Smil

Pub Date: May 10th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-593-29706-3
Publisher: Viking

A scientific panorama of our well-being and how it can be sustained in our current tumultuous times and beyond.

In seven chapters, Smil, the author of more than 40 books on science, nature, and current affairs, explores the science behind essential contemporary topics: energy generation, food production, material dependence, globalization, large-scale risks, responses to environmental threats, and predictive uncertainty. The author aims to combat the widespread “comprehension deficit” about basic scientific facts, and he seeks to “explain some of the most fundamental ruling realities governing our survival and our prosperity.” That aim is marvelously achieved, as Smil sheds needed light on how global populations depend on particular technologies and industrial processes while debunking common misperceptions. Chief among these is the assumption that large-scale decarbonization is plausible in the near term. As several chapters demonstrate, we will most likely remain dependent on the consumption of massive amounts of fossil fuels for decades to come before alternative energy sources can be scaled to meet global demand. The author provides a revelatory overview of where human health and affluence come from, how they might be preserved in spite of alarming signs of ecological collapse, and which specific disruptions to them, such as those posed by viral pandemics or climate change, are actually most threatening. Throughout, Smil exposes the dubious assumptions of so-called “catastrophism,” the conviction that human life is doomed to extinction in the near future, as well as “techno-optimism,” an equally misplaced faith in the ingenuity of engineers to deliver utopian solutions to all our existential challenges. The author’s sober and illuminating assessment of contemporary realities shows how challenges can, seemingly, be managed in the coming decades even if the precise means of doing so—and the various complications that will inevitably unfold—cannot be reliably ascertained in advance.

An exceptionally lucid, evenhanded study of the scientific basis of our current and future lives.