Yergin’s The Quest

I promised to keep you posted . . . and this one is worth the wait.

Daniel Yergin’s The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (Penguin, 2011) covers the myriad angles of energy production and consumption – oil and gas, coal, hydro, nuclear, solar, wind, and biomass – and most of their related economic and political ramifications. Yergin’s previous effort, The Prize (Simon & Schuster, 1991), is an epic recounting of the oil industry from its conception to its modern-day manifestation. The Prize is one of the best books I’ve read; it’s simply a must read for anyone wanting to understand the workings of our modern energy-dependent world and its future direction.

Perhaps The Prize was too good; the initial two sections of The Quest – essentially an update on the oil industry from where The Prize left off – were a bit slow. All the good oil industry narratives (Rockefeller, Gulbenkian, Pickens) were already covered in The Prize; an exception, however, is Venezuela and Hugo Chavez’s machinations at power via oil. This new story kept my interest and reminded me of Yergin’s ability to tell a good tale while simultaneously expounding history.

Things pick up considerably in section three (and beyond) as Yergin switches gears and covers the energy industry outside of oil and gas. The topics of electricity generation, coal, carbon release and climate change, nuclear power, renewable energies, energy conservation and efficiency make The Quest more than a worthy read. It’s at these points that the books expansive reach most impresses. Additionally, Yergin’s tendency to not cut corners in the telling of the tale gives the reader a sense of satisfaction, as the time investment (more than 300,000 words, 725 pages) is significant. Yergin took five years to write The Quest, and with the help of his research assistants, he consistently delivers. He answers the questions that occur to you as you think through the reading, and discover. Yergin deeply informs (as an example: US nuclear energy production has remained steady at 20% of total energy produced ever since the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979, despite the addition of no new reactors), and presents sensitive issues without too much hedging one way or the other. His treatment of carbon release (section four) is especially balanced and engaging, as he goes back to 19th century protagonists Tyndall and Arrhenius in order to tell the larger story of climate change.

While I won’t rate The Quest as one of the best books I’ve read, I’ll classify it as outstanding in its scope and compelling in its telling of the energy sector’s complexity. There is no modern world without the exploitation of energy stores; being conversant with Yergin helps one to be plugged into that which powers all (or at least, most) things modern.

 

My book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, can be seen as a complex distillation of many books – Yergin’s The Prize being one – contributing their particular insights to the overall message. It is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

 

 

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