Skip to main content

The Solar Revolution – Steven McKevitt and Tony Ryan ****

This is updated edition of Project Sunshine and the review is from that edition.
The authors of this important book recognize that energy is the fundamental limiter for human existence and coupled with getting food production right, producing enough clean energy is the most essential step required to keep the world as we know it going.
It’s a slightly meandering book, taking in population growth, cosmology, world history, fossil fuels, renewables and more. The conclusions are powerful and inevitable. Forget the hydrogen infrastructure beloved of Arnie and Top Gear – it’s expensive and impractical. Yes to wind and all those other good things, but for at least 30 years we need a major increase in nuclear (with particular investment in fusion) combined with a rapidly increasing dependence on solar. This needs to be assembled alongside with effective ways of storing energy, which are more likely to be chemical (e.g. producing methanol from air-based carbon, then burning it) than as batteries.
So a great, really important message, but I found quite a lot of the book irritatingly slow, with far too much history that didn’t really contribute a lot to the argument. There was also a touch of the ‘Gore syndrome ‘ – Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth was largely good, but it was let down badly by a couple of factual errors.
All pop science books have a few errors, but when you lay down the law in a polemic fashion you need to be perfect with you core arguments. This book twice makes the plonking statement that ‘all our energy comes from the Sun’. This is blatantly not true, as the book makes plain in describing nuclear, geothermal and tidal energy – none if them dependent on sunlight.
The pages dealing with cosmology seemed slightly better than in the first edition, but even so there are  some highly dubious numbers on inflation, and this whole section feels a little out of place – not crucial but irritating, making me wonder if the authors should have stuck to the science they knew. Overall, though, a very powerful and important title that all politicians should have on their shelves.
Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Cosmology for the Curious - Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin ***

In the recently published The Little Book of Black Holes we saw what I thought was pretty much impossible - a good, next level, general audience science title, spanning the gap between a typical popular science book and an introductory textbook, but very much in the style of popular science. Cosmology for the Curious does something similar, but coming from the other direction. This is an introductory textbook, intended for first year physics students, with familiar textbook features like questions to answer at the end of each chapter. Yet by incorporating some history and context, plus taking a more relaxed style in the writing, it's certainly more approachable than a typical textbook.

The first main section, The Big Bang and the Observable Universe not only covers basic big bang cosmology but fills in the basics of special and general relativity, Hubble's law, dark matter, dark energy and more. We then move onto the more speculative (this is cosmology, after all) aspects, brin…

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson *****

When I reviewed James Binney’s Astrophysics: A Very Short Introduction earlier this year, I observed that the very word ‘astrophysics’ in a book’s title is liable to deter many readers from buying it. As a former astrophysicist myself, I’ve never really understood why it’s considered such a scary word, but that’s the way it is. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn, from Wikipedia, that this new book by Neil deGrasse Tyson ‘topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list for four weeks in the middle of 2017’.

Like James Binney, Tyson is a professional astrophysicist with a string of research papers to his name – but he’s also one of America’s top science popularisers, and that’s the hat he’s wearing in this book. While Binney addresses an already-physics-literate audience, Tyson sets his sights on a much wider readership. It’s actually very brave – and honest – of him to give physics such prominent billing; the book could easily have been given a more reader-friendly title such …

Once upon and Algorithm - Martin Erwig ***

I've been itching to start reading this book for some time, as the premise was so intriguing - to inform the reader about computer science and algorithms using stories as analogies to understand the process.

This is exactly what Martin Erwig does, starting (as the cover suggests) with Hansel and Gretel, and then bringing in Sherlock Holmes (and particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles), Indiana Jones, the song 'Over the Rainbow' (more on that in a moment), Groundhog Day, Back to the Future and Harry Potter.

The idea is to show how some aspect of the story - in the case of Hansel and Gretel, laying a trail of stones/breadcrumbs, then attempting to follow them home - can be seen as a kind of algorithm or computation and gradually adding in computing standards, such as searching, queues and lists, loops, recursion and more.

This really would have been a brilliant book if Erwig had got himself a co-author who knew how to write for the public, but sadly the style is mostly heavy…