Get perspective from all sides, Get the history right, Get the fundamentals and then Get out there and Do Something!
I recently had one of our younger team members ask me about good books to read on the energy industry and while I have linked to the lists of many others I admire it seemed like time to put one together that is unique to my experience. For those looking for an ax to grind you will have to go somewhere else, or perhaps you can just grind these together. What I was looking for in this list is perspective not tunnel vision. As such you will find some opinions and views you do not like, do not agree with nor certainly that you would endorse. That is the point.
If you are in an echo chamber of only far left environmentalists you will hate many of these books, but if you want to advocate for your views more effectively you should read them to understand your adversary. If you are a hard right die hard “fossil fuels will rule forever” and believe that humans have nothing to do with climate than you will hate many of these books, but if you want to advocate for your views more effectively you should read them to understand your adversary. Yes I wrote that last part twice so maybe someone will read it once.
So on to the list with links to amazon and audible where possible:
Energy History and Fundamentals
- The Prize, Daniel Yergin. Simply the best history of oil ever written.
- The History of Standard Oil Company, Ida Tarbell. One of the most influential pieces of journalism that had an impact far beyond the oil business.
- Oil 101, Morgan Downey. Great foundation on the facts one needs to understand oil, from its history and chemistry, to refining, finished products, storage, transportation, and alternatives.
- Solar Energy, Michael Mackay. Solid introduction for any beginner in the field or anyone wanting to gain a broader perspective of solar energy technologies.
- The Collapsing Universe, Isaac Asimov. First read this when I was ten years old and it was the best introduction to physics that a young science fan could ever have. Without basic physics you can be bamboozled by those proposing energy solutions that violate the laws of physics. That would be bad and face it you are not going to read a textbook so this is a great start. Who isn’t curious about black holes.
- The Quest, Daniel Yergin. This guys so good you have to read his follow on to The Prize.
- Energy, the Subtle Concept, Jennifer Coopersmith. For those that have nailed the basics this denser tome of more advanced concepts is a great next step.
Energy and Environment
- The Boom, Russell Gold. So yes I am putting this under the Energy and Environment category and it is about fracking. Why, because by exploding the supply of natural gas in the US fracking has done more to lower the US carbon footprint than any other technology thus far. Yet it is one of the most controversial developments in recent history. All that aside this is a great story tellers book.
- Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, David J. C. Mackay. One of the better looks at renewables, alternatives, and the whole topic of where we go from here without all the Al Gore style hyperbole. Good bit of stats and numbers to put things into context against the backdrop of the enormous scale of the energy industry and societies needs.
- Storms of my Grandchildren, James Hanson. One of the more full throttled views on global warming, yes global warming not hedging his perspective to “climate change” like most of his peers. Hanson has been the leading advocate and spokesperson on global warming since the 80’s and this book designed to scare you and then pull on your heartstrings through your children and grandchildren is one you have to read regardless of your views.
- Energy at the Crossroads, Vaclav Smil. Smil is one of my current favorites for well thought out arguments for or against nearly every energy option we have going into the future. The opposite of Hanson in his dry and matter of fact realism Smil brings the energy challenges of the future into sharp focus.
- Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins. Clearly in the Hanson camp as far as the sense of urgency of the issues we face but a more optimistic and excitable vision for how to tackle the balance between growing energy needs and sustaining our environment. The realists in the Smil camp will hate this book, those who are fans of Peter Diamandis and his “Abundance” perspective should like this as a more energy focused version of Peter’s more general view.
- Power Hungry, Robert Bryce. The antithetical view to Hanson and Lovins. Bryce does a wonderful job at detailing just how huge the hunger and ever growing demand for energy on this planet really is and how the current efforts aimed at sustainable energy are woefully under scaled. Environmentalists will hate it, but they’d be far better off for reading and appreciating Byrce’s points on just how big a hill they face.
- The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex Epstein. I will close the list with this now widely recognized book from Epstein. This book is the best I have seen at balancing the massive benefits we have all enjoyed based on the fossil fuel energy system we have today with the questions about how we go forward from here.
While many want to simply condemn the industry for where we are almost everyone throwing those rocks lives in a glass house. They enjoy the security, mobility, and overall lifestyle they have because we were able to master the energy available to us from fossil fuels. Yet, we must move on, and quickly. If climate and air quality weren’t reason enough, we must also remember that the even bigger issue is that if we do not replace fossil fuels before they run out then most people on the planet will face extinction in the next couple of hundred years. That is a blink compared with how long it took us to figure out what we have today and it is not going to be easy.
So the big challenges and questions we must answer for energy are really the same for everyone on all sides of the the debate. We can and should vigorously debate the timeline and the market mechanisms needed to evolve our harvesting, generation and distribution of the energy we all require but we cannot ignore the massive challenges ahead. I believe if we can all understand the other side of the debate a little bit better we can move forward on those big challenges with far more creativity and optimism. We will need heaping amounts of both because it is going to take all we got to solve this!