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How the World Really Works: Why We’re Wrong and How Science Can Set Us Straight Paperback – 7 October 2021
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We have never had so much information at our fingertips, and yet until recently we lived our hermetically-sealed lives at a distance from the complex realities of the physical world. But crises strip away the covers of obfuscation and misdirection to reveal truths. Any ideas of human supremacy were dashed by Covid-19; it was a stark reminder of our limited grasp on reality. If we are to successfully navigate our uncertain future, understanding the inner workings of our modern world is vital.
Professor Vaclav Smil is not a pessimist or an optimist, he is a scientist. Championing a rational fact-based approach - and on topics ranging from food production and nutrition, through energy and the environment, to globalization and the future - Smil shows, for example, how our food is inexorably linked to the massive combustion of fossil fuels, that globalization is much older than you think (but not inevitable), and why from horse riding to solar flares we consistently miscalculate risk.
Tackling sources of misinformation head on - from Yuval Noah Harari to Gwyneth Paltrow - he addresses the most consequential of all contemporary questions: are we irrevocably doomed or is a brighter utopia ahead? He explains faults with both extremes. Compelling, data-rich and revisionist, How the World Really Works draws on half a century of Smil's own research and distils the ideas of his over forty books into one peerlessly authoritative yet accessible masterpiece.
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The problem with our ability to understand many of the major problems today is that we tend to focus on the narrow, specific, and immediate problem – for example, the Russian-Ukrainian war. We might begin to look beyond border disputes, and the question as to whether the US had instigated the war, once we begin to see problems in the light of Smil’s book.
One of the many issues arising from the Russian-Ukrainian war is the supply and demand of energy. But what do we know about energy? This is one of the subjects Smil introduces us to in his chapter, understanding energy. From there, he makes a connection from energy to food. And next, he examines the materials such as plastics, steel, and concrete that have such massive impact on our lives. The jump in the use of plastics can be seen in the simple statistic that in 1925, the global production was only 20,000 tons. In 2021 it was 370 million tons.
Smil relates modern utilities and materials such as the smartphones to their historical roots (though ostensibly unconnected) such as the invention of the steam turbine in 1884. Smil has a chapter on environment to complete the matters that matter in our lives. It is an educational exploration in which he tells us not to worry too much about oxygen, but we should worry about water.
Parts of the book appear to be rushed, but overall, it is well-written, highly accessible without scientific or philosophic jargon.
Top reviews from other countries
I think this will be the summary of his all works… in layman language
The energy transition will take time, a long time
And we will always have a negative impact on others and the environment.