Most of the energy and climate geeks I know (myself included) love reading. So I figured I’d offer some thoughts on a few terrific books they might appreciate this holiday season. Two things to note: (1) I purposely selected books which cover somewhat different territory, categorizing them as: The History, The Impact, The Opportunity, The Visionary and The Overlooked; (2) There are tons of other great books out there on these or similar topics. I simply chose 5 of my favorites which I found to be unique, insightful and worth recommending.
1) THE HISTORY: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power
Business Week simply called this book, “The best history of oil ever written.”
Need I say more? Daniel Yergin’s masterpiece is the seminal book on energy in the 20th century. It’s up there as one of my favorite books of all time. If you have even an inkling of desire to learn about energy you must read this book. Do not make the mistake of thinking that because it focuses on the history of oil it has no relevance to clean energy and the future. It will teach you more about the role of energy in geopolitics, the nature of energy revolutions, and how the structure of global energy power works than you could ever imagine.
To remake a future of clean energy you must first understand how the global energy order built into what it is. Make no mistake, this book is a significant undertaking, but never has so big a book read so fast. As the San Francisco Examiner said, “…only in the great epics of Homer will readers regularly run into a comparable string of larger-than-life swashbucklers and statesmen, heroes and villains.” This thing reads like an adventure novel. Trust me, this is one of the greats. (If they’ve already read this, you can give them Yergin’s follow-up juggernaut, The Quest)
2) THE IMPACT: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
While this Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times Bestselling book is ostensibly more about the impact of humans on other Earthly life than climate change, this interpretation misses a larger theme. What Elizabeth Kolbert offers is a unique perspective to those who seek to understand climate change within the broader scope of human impact on our planet. Elizabeth takes us on an adventure as she follows an array of biologists, geologists and more investigating extinction-level crises which threaten as varied lifeforms as coral, bats and rhinos. What makes Elizabeth Kolbert’s storytelling so unique is the restrained, scientific manner in which the story and ensuing facts are presented. While many books I have read about human impact are tinged with anger and outrage, I found the sobriety of her storytelling greatly refreshing. With far less interest in pointing fingers and placing blame, Elizabeth Kolbert keeps distractions out and keeps the story clear, ultimately accomplishing her goal with grace: to convey just how impactful human existence is on everything around us.
3) THE OPPORTUNITY: Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy
For years I have been frustrated by how the clean energy and climate action communities have failed in their messaging by focusing too much on the climate change crisis and too little on the once-in-a-century, society transforming climate change opportunity staring us in the face. One person who seems to get it, however, and who has no problem airing his opinion on the matter, is Jigar Shah. Shah founded SunEdison in 2003, not with new technology, but with a new business model, achieving outstanding success as he built the largest solar company in the world. Beginning with this experience, Shah lays out his case that through pragmatism, discipline and a business-minded approach, we can unlock the great economic, environmental and social benefits that exist now only as potential.
In a time when “technology will save us” is too often served as the answer to all problems, Jigar Shah offers practical, real insights to how we can take advantage of the climate change opportunity today with existing technologies by employing entrepreneurial grit and smarter deployment of capital. Hopefully, more thinkers and doers will follow Shah’s lead and focus on the opportunities of transforming our economy as Shah has done in his great book. I think this is a great and necessary read for all, but particularly anyone who is business or investment minded, or has an entrepreneurial streak.
4) THE VISIONARY – Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
I simply don’t know how you could not be fascinated by Elon Musk. Whether you are an adoring fan, a skeptic, or an unabashed hater, Elon Musk simply is one the most interesting people in the world, which is clear by the way he has captured the imagination of followers the world over. The further into this book I got the harder it was to put it down. He is a seriously complex dude, and yet, in some ways more straightforward than the rest of us. He also might end up doing more good for humanity than anyone in history. It’s odd to write that about someone who is living but it is true.
The author, Ashlee Vance, dogged Musk until he secured Musk’s cooperation, gaining Musk’s trust and opening up his true world in impressive detail through extensive interviews with the man himself, family and friends. This book honestly explores the surreal world of “Muskland” with insights into what made Musk into who he is, how he thinks, why he is driven to do what he does, and the incredible toll this takes on him and those around him.
Whether Elon Musk will go down in a history as a great hero or a tragic figure, he is the very definition of a visionary and in this time of too much cynicism, his vision for our sustainable future is nothing short of breathtaking. For the young person looking for purpose, or simply the Elon Musk nut in your family, Vance’s exploration of a unique life is too interesting and too good to pass up.
5) THE OVERLOOKED – The Grid: The Fraying Lines Between Americans and Our Energy Future
There is no aspect of the energy landscape that is more important and gets less public attention than the electrical grid itself. However, it is something that is very worth learning about. Dr. Gretchen Bakke does us a huge favor by diving in and uncovering much of value in this wildly overlooked aspect of the energy ecosystem.
That being said, you’re probably more influenced by what Bill Gates thinks than what I think, and he thinks this is one of the top 5 books he read in all of 2016. Bill gates reads a ton, and he reads a ton of great books. So top 5 of the year is quite an achievement. Here’s his take from his blog:
“This book, about our aging electrical grid, fits in one of my favorite genres: “Books About Mundane Stuff That Are Actually Fascinating.” Part of the reason I find this topic fascinating is because my first job, in high school, was writing software for the entity that controls the power grid in the Northwest. But even if you have never given a moment’s thought to how electricity reaches your outlets, I think this book would convince you that the electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world. I think you would also come to see why modernizing the grid is so complex and so critical for building our clean-energy future.”
Don’t take it from me, take it from Bill, this book is worth a read.
Hope you enjoy these recommendations! Feel free shoot me your own suggestions on twitter @cleantekker or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org