What Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil Can Teach Us About Our World

As I sit here writing this post, I technically have not finished Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil. It is a hefty book of knowledge of nearly 500 pages and I have been trying to read at least 100 pages a day, however that is proving to be much more difficult to do. Today, I’m going to talk about some key elements that are being taught to us within this book and how it can relate to the world, climate change, and us as a whole.

This book has an in depth knowledge of the tools and materials throughout history (dating all the way back to 1,700,000+ BCE as mentioned on the Addenda on page 447. All dates are roughly approximated which is also mentioned on that page). While this book is detailed with words, there are also images on what some of these tools look like, for example, I didn’t know what The Great Laxey waterwheel was until page 156 where there was a nice image of it. But what does this have to do with anything? Well, this book is detailed in the history of farming, agriculture, fossil fuels, energy, etc., which is something that we in the modern days deal with and this can show us the history of how we contributed to the change in the climate and the world.

What we know about climate change can also be learned through this book, especially the history behind how we got here, 2020, and the technology that has been developed for a very long time. We are taught with the development of fossil fuels, a huge factor of climate change and pollution now, and also how lots of things that are contributing to climate change now, were merely tools to help the world grow back then.

Fossil fuels, energy, Greenhouse Gasses, they are all a part of the increase in climate change and global warming, and those are some of the topics that are within this book. Which is one of the reasons I’m reading this books, to gain more knowledge of the beginnings of the technology that was built for us to use in our present day world. As we dive further into the story, we are given more explanation about fossil fuels and how it adds to the history and in depth knowledge of how fossil fuels started.

Real life changes; going from horses to vehicle transportation are shown here, the usage of technology; air-conditioning, electricity, etc., represent the high energy usage of the modern day world and the opposite, what it was like using tools and the lack of such modern technology. Climate change is a huge topic and answers are still being thought out but we can always start by learning what it was like throughout history without the technology and tools that we have now. Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil really teaches us the different usage of tools and resources that we may not see in every day life. Resources that we overlook and also overuse.

If you’re interested in nonfiction and learning about the world, while this is a thick and heavy content book, I definitely recommend it. Check out my Goodreads for more book recommendations or what I am currently reading. We can always learn more about our world and this book: Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil is a great start.


Veronica Chen

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