Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World
Author: Tom Zoellner
Offering a detailed look at the interplay between government, business, culture and, in some cases, pure dumb luck, Uranium analyzes the colorful history of the element’s discovery, properties, and eventual use in the first atomic bomb. As the arguably complicated story is outlined, readers will gain a new appreciation for the way that cultures and societies shaped the perception of nuclear power, how the successes and failures of new technologies using nuclear science hinged on a multitude of sometimes unanticipated factors, and how ill-prepared the beneficiaries, victims, and bystanders were for the discovery of nuclear energy. Expertise in the subject matter is not a requirement to understand this book; the author carefully explains the history, science, and impacts of their interaction in a way that is approachable and thorough.
Power and the Vote: Elections and Electricity in the Developing World
Author: Brian Min
Brian Min’s book, Power and the Vote, provides a detailed examination of the ways that electricity access and democracy interact and impact each other in developing states. Using satellite imagery to study electricity distribution and historical analyses to provide context, Min makes the argument, over eight chapters, that democratic governments provide greater access to public goods than do non democratic governments. Taking care to highlight the relevant political externalities and how they impact and are are impacted by government systems, Min takes an analytical approach to explain how electricity access fluctuates globally.
Heat & Light
Author: Jennifer Haigh
Set in a former coal-mining town in Pennsylvania, Heat & Light provides a glimpse at the lives of those who are directly affected by energy exploration, including fracking. The book takes place in a town called Bakerton, which decayed over time as the coal mines closed. Then, when a mining company called Dark Elephant sends “land men” to town to convince landowners to sign over mineral rights to the company, the lives of the inhabitants are increasingly disrupted in unforeseen ways. Told from the perspectives of a variety of characters, from contracted rig workers and executives to dairy farmers and activists, the book illustrates that the issues surrounding resource acquisition and energy are not always as black and white as they can seem to the external observer. (This book is a work of fiction, and contains some adult content and situations.)
Coal: A Human History
Author: Barbara Freese
A staff favorite! A balanced, in-depth look at coal’s impact on industry, transportation and human health over the 190 years since its introduction as the firestarter of the Industrial Revolution, Coal reminds the reader that for all its decreasing relevance in the future of American power generation, it profoundly shaped the modern world. The book delves into the personal stories and news of the day surrounding early British and American manufacturing and the development of the American and British railway systems, and outlines the role of coal in the dawn of the environmental movement. It closes with a look at the role of coal in the developing world, and how nations like China are weighing its economic benefits against its human and environmental toll.
The Fracking Debate
Author: Daniel Raimi
Wading through the vitriol that tends to plague politicized issues can be a challenge for people seeking to developed informed opinions. This book attempts to facilitate the process by offering a candid analysis of the most contentious issues, relying on data whenever available but also incorporating firsthand accounts from people whose lives have been directly impacted by the shale boom. As in most cases where multiple opinions exist, both anti- and pro-fracking advocates will find something to love and hate about the information in this book, which is usually a reliable indicator of truth and accuracy. For anyone seeking to understand the scientific and economic factors that supported the shale revolution in the US, identify which claims from either side of the argument are grounded in facts, or just develop an idea of what fracking is, this book is the place to start.
The Last Days of Night
Author: Graham Moore
Told through the lens of fast-paced historical fiction, The Last Days of Night explores a slightly-dramatized rendering of the renowned battle of the currents, which occurred in the late 1800s. Told from the perspective of Paul Cravath, at the time a young attorney hired by George Westinghouse to defend him against Thomas Edison in a patent suit over light bulb designs, the story quickly evolves into the battle between alternating and direct current that would go on to shape the structure of the American electric grid. Although the order, duration, and exact details of many of the events described in the novel are, by the author’s own admission, exaggerated for the purpose of the narrative, it is nonetheless an enlightening look into the personalities and creations of Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and other prominent figures in American history.
New York 2140
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Written from the perspectives of several characters, New York 2140 is a speculative fiction novel in which climate change has caused severe rising sea levels, flooding New York and turning it into a canal city. The story describes the lives and interactions of a diverse cast, including a police inspector, a financier, a reality TV star, and two homeless boys, whose paths cross through a series of odd circumstances. Overall, the story and setting detail a compelling world in which business-as-usual culminates in a vastly different, yet somehow familiar, American culture, highlighting the resilient and industrial nature of people and their ability to adapt.
The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future
Author: Gretchen Bakke
The Grid represents a thorough summary of the regulatory and technical history and function of the United States’ electricity infrastructure. The book details the evolution of early, localized grids into regional, interconnected systems, and examines the potential future of distribution and transmission systems. With an eye toward approachability, the author begins with a walkthrough of basic electricity physics and progresses through the ways that technology, policy, and economics have shaped the development of energy in the United States. The Grid serves as an excellent introductory source for those unfamiliar with electricity infrastructure and introduces many unique observations regarding its strengths and flaws.