Vaclav Smill’s “How the World Really Works” is a brief but thorough masterpiece of education in numeric thinking about many of the fundamental forces that shape human life.

https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/How-the-World-Really-Works

Because he has gone so deep into such specific topics, he is qualified to step back and write a broad overview for a general audience, which is what he has done with How the World Really Works. If you want a brief but thorough education in numeric thinking about many of the fundamental forces that shape human life, this is the book to read.

Energy is a great example. I have learned more about energy and its impact on society from Vaclav than from any other single source. In 2017 I reviewed his masterpiece Energy and Civilization: A History and wrote that “he goes deep and broad to explain how innovations in humans’ ability to turn energy into heat, light, and motion have been a driving force behind our cultural and economic progress over the past 10,000 years.”

But if you are not up for a long, dense book on the role of energy in human history—Energy and Civilization is 568 pages long and reads like an academic text—you can get the most important ideas by reading the first three chapters of How the World Really Works. They should be required reading for anyone who wants to have an informed opinion on climate change. All Vaclav wants is for people to look at all the areas of emissions—producing electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and so on—and propose realistic, economically viable plans for reducing emissions in each one.

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