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Energy and climate books I read in 2010

Here is a selection of sustainable energy and climate change books I read in 2010. I’ve provided a few sentence summary of each book (from my perspective) and a Rating out of 5. Some books have been reviewed in more detail on BNC already — enter from the title of the book in this website’s search box to find the review (or click links provided). For my 2009 list, go here.

Climate science

Tyler Volk. CO2 Rising: The World’s Greatest Environmental Challenge. MIT Press, 2008 (223 pp). Carbon atoms with personality – an entertaining tour of the carbon cycle, and an exploration of how humanity is disrupting the natural balance of flows in and out of the biosphere and geosphere. Full review here. Rating: 3

Edmond Mathez. Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future. Columbia University Press, 2009 (318 pp). A richly illustrated guide to all aspects of climate science, impacts, adaptation and mitigation. Superficial in parts, but mostly a superb overview, and excellent value as a student text. Full review here. Rating: 4

Peter Ward. The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps. Basic Books, 2010 (272 pp). A chilling look at our possible destiny along the world’s coastlines as climate change drives an inexorable rise in sea levels. Hypothetical glimpses into possible futures are used as an effective device to indicate the limits of human adaptability. Full review here. Rating: 3.5

Stewart Cohen & Melissa Waddell. Climate Change in the 21st Century. McGill-Queen’s UP, 2010 (379 pp). Mostly a standard, plain text overview of climate change, but saved by the excellent concluding chapters on integrated assessment models and the interrelationship and synergies of anthropogenic climate change within the broader global environmental debate. Rating: 2.5

Michael Mann & Lee Kump. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. DK, 2008 (208 pp). A layman’s guide to the IPCC reports. The text is fairly straightforward and won’t reveal much that is new to those already familiar with the evidence, but probably useful for the beginner. Worth getting,  however, for the superb quality of the numerous colour figures. Rating: 3

Sustainable energy

Colin Keay. Nuclear Energy Explained (4 short mini-books). Scribd Online Books, 2002 — 2005 (190 pp). A layman’s tour of nuclear energy: fact, fiction and realities. A terrific introduction to the subject for anyone with little prior knowledge but a hunger to know more. Full review here. Rating: 4

Barry Brook & Ian Lowe. Why vs Why: Nuclear Power. Pantera Press, 2010 (128 pp). A flip book, providing the arguments for and against nuclear power as a solution to the climate and energy crises. Full description here. Rating: N/A (I wrote it, so I’ll leave others to judge!)

Fred Krupp & Miriam Horn. Earth: The Sequel – The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming. W.W. Norton & Co., 2008 (279 pp).  Renewable energy ‘stories’, where the technology for solar thermal, bioenergy, wave, coal with CCS and so on are overviewed and then tied in with vignettes about the people developing the technology. Lightweight but well written. Rating: 2.5

William Tucker. Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey. Bartleby Press, 2008 (430 pp). (Chapters 2 and 8 are free online) – A very readable history of American energy: fossil, renewable and nuclear. The last part of the book focuses on Gen II and Gen III nuclear power, and explores where it has stalled and how it might flourish in the future. Written by a conservative with a strong environmental conciousness. The quality of the prose is top class. Rating: 4

Jeff Eerkens. The Nuclear Imperative – A Critical Look at the Approaching Energy Crisis. Springer, 2006 (160 pp). Aimed at the working scientist or engineer who wants to learn more about nuclear power and the serious need to find replacements to fossil fuels. Some excellent technical material, especially on synfuel production, the operation and physical basis of nuclear power plants, and risk assessment in the context of energy. Anyone serious about energy needs to read this. Rating: 4.5

Alvin Weinberg. The First Nuclear Era – The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer. Springer, 1997 (324 pp). Reflective autobiography of Alvin Weinberg, former director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, co-inventor of the light water reactor, and advocate of molten salt thorium reactors. Offers a superb insight into the first 50 years of atomic energy, from one of the key figures who saw it all. I loved his description of the excitement (and disappointments) of the birth and maturity of this bold new energy source. An absolute MUST READ. Quote below. Rating: 5

I can still remember the thrill that came with my realization that the (nuclear fission) breeder meant inexhaustible energy… I became obsessed with the idea that humankind’s whole future depended on the breeder. Alvin Weinberg, The First Nuclear Era


Of course I also ploughed through a slew of scientific papers (both peer-reviewed and grey literature) as any active research scientist must do to keep up with his field. (Forgive me if I don’t list all of these.) I also read/edited a couple of complete draft books, including a new one on energy alternatives by Martin Nicholson and a tome that will become THE reference book on fast reactor technology (yes, I wish I could say more…).

I also read the complete series of Sherlock Holmes books (useful for sharpening one’s critical thinking skills) and a heap of other fiction that is not relevant to this blog!

Filed under: Climate change Q&A, Ecological impacts, Emissions reduction, Future shock, Hot news in climate science, Nuclear Energy, Renewable planet

Barry Brook's picture

Thank Barry for the Post!

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Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Dec 21, 2010 4:51 pm GMT

Nuclear reactors may wind up extending the life of fossil fueled cars.  The reason is that a reactor used for production of fuel from coal harvests much more of the energy value in the coal than one fueled by the coal itself. 

In a coal fired synthetic fuel plant, about one-third of the energy value runs the plan, and an additional energy penalty is imposed on production to power air scrubbers and other pollution control equipment.  The result is a significant portion of the energy potential in the coal never makes it into the final product.

If a small modular reactor is running the plant, then there are no costs for scrubbers and a far greater percentage of the energy value in the coal is captured as fuel. 

The energy density of the gasoline has very high value and that could be enough of an incentive for firms to build these types of plants.  Electric cars are not going to replace gas powered vehicles any time soon. 


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