Monday, May 02, 2005

Book review--Out of Gas

David Goodstein's Out of Gas is a quick-and-dirty (ha ha) explanation of the science behind our country's (and the world's) energy consumption practices. In it, Goodstein describes how energy is converted to fuel, and how we then use fuel to do work (as a physicist would define that term). Goodstein's book is aimed at the lay public, and he does a reasonably good job in showing the historical background to our coming energy crisis, in addition to analyzing the possible outcomes of ignoring that crisis. He reviews the various potential untapped (or underutilized) sources of power for the world, but unfortunately, Goodstein is less clear about what courses of action might be best for the US and the world. Blithely continuing to consume as much oil as we currently do is obviously not recommended, but neither returning to a coal-based energy policy nor expanding/restarting a nuclear one seem to hold much promise either. The problem, as Goodstein sees it, is the entire concept of using nonrenewable resources at all, because eventually, we will use them all up.
Goodstein is very much a proponent of solar energy (the one resource that, for all intents and purposes, is unlimited), but unfortunately, his analysis only touches briefly on practical ways we can actually harness the sun's rays. This drawback, though, is more than counterbalanced by what is in Out of Gas, and it would be unfair to criticize Goodstein for not having come up with a workable solution to a problem that has been bedeviling physicists for decades in a book not designed as such.
This is a great book to have on the shelf of any person's home who is unclear on why relying on anything other than renewable energy is foolish, and its brevity (the book is only 123 pages long!) and clarity make it a short-term investment in learning the ins and outs of the physical aspects of energy use.


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