Energy and Civilization was one of the books recommended by Bill Gates last year. After watching “Bill’s Brain,” which included an episode on energy and climate, I decided it was worth reading. Professor Smil has made a career out of studying energy and growth and has authored many books on these subjects.

Energy and Civilization provides a detailed description of the history of energy and human civilization back to the times when hunter-gatherer societies made stone tools. He looks at the relative advantages of different tools, comparing the energy efficiency of various designs. Smil explores the basics (moving water, harnessing fire) and the more advanced (Steam engine, internal combustion engine, solar, etc.) forms of energy. He provides a couple of chapters devoted to how the ability to harness and convert energy gave humans the ability to build civilizations and cities.

This is a fascinating book. However, I would recommend if you are particularly interested in the history of energy and the mechanics of how one type of energy is transformed into another. This book is relatively dense, and there are not many stories to move the reader forward. It took me a couple of months to read.

Amazon Link: Energy and Civilization