How the World Really Works
by Vaclav Smil

September 29, 2022
T. Alex Blum
How the World Really Works
by Vaclav Smil

There are four pillars which support our modern world?

1) Ammonia, which is used to make nitrogen fertilizer, without which literally half the
world would starve.

2) Plastics, which because of their strength to weight ratio are essential to the construction of practically every major technology or tool, from household appliances, toys, automotive, construction, consumer products, to medical applications and aerospace.

3) Steel, which enables modern civilizations most fundamental functions and makes cars, airplanes, skyscrapers, and a host of other essential things possible.

4) Cement, which is the most massively deployed material in western civilization, without which cities, highways, bridges, airports, sidewalks, would not exist.

The production of all four of these consume massive amounts of fossil fuels, so if you want to seriously understand what it would take to decarbonize the planet, this book is a good place to start. The author is a scientist who specializes in the study of energy. He does not traffic in hysterical catastrophe scenarios, or corporate denial scenarios. He deals in facts, numbers, and science.

In case you thought globalization was either a new phenomenon, or an inevitable trend, he will clarify that for you, and explain how it drives global economics and trade; like Daniel Kahneman, he addresses our flawed understanding of risk. He looks dispassionately at our path to the future, the state of the environment, and explains the history of energy production and its effect on civilization.

Along the way, he delivers some entertaining observations about futurists, pseudo-science, and the so-called experts selling predictions on everything from the apocalypse to the singularity. If you want to actually understand the world just a little bit better, start with this book. It’s not long, it’s easy to read, and it’s full of (not opinions) facts.

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