The physical framework used to describe the various conversions is endoreversible thermodynamics, a subset of irreversible thermodynamics. “Thermodynamics of Solar Energy Conversion” provides an excellent generalized introduction into principles of solar energy conversion for everybody knowing some basics of university mathematics. Described are situations which are not in equilibrium and in which entropy is continuously created, but which are nevertheless stationary. In dealing with endoreversible thermodynamics, the given information in this book enables the reader to calculate the explicit values for a broad class of processes. It is demonstrated that solar energy conversion is a process particularly suited to being described in this way.Community Review
- A very interesting, informative, and entertaining history of energy and its relationship to humanity. The author thoroughly reviews the use of wood, coal, hydro, electricity, whale oil, petroleum, natural gas, nuke. I liked Rhodes’ history of the atomic bomb 32 years ago, and I like this as well.
I was rather surprised at the lack of equivalent detail given to either solar or wind. There is, for example, infinitely more detail given to the production and use of whale oil as their is to either wind or solar. This is in sharp contrast to the minute detail of description of nuclear fission and nuclear power generation. The last third of the book is basically advocacy for nuclear power in the 21st century; as the book transitions from the past to the present and the future, the tone inevitably turns from history to op-ed. The author tee’s up the major stumbling blocks of nuke – cost and waste disposal – and the breezily dismisses them out of hand. His position on nuke waste disposal is purely that he has confidence that our grandchildren will figure it out, because grandchildren always do, given that they have 2 more generations of knowledge and experience to draw upon than their grandparents.
- This was an interesting book that really helps you get a sense of how we have have used various energy sources over the last 40 years. My only complaint is that it sort of ends suddenly, with just the briefest description of renewable energy. To some degree this is understandable, but compared to the detail and storytelling in the rest of the book, it is a bit of a letdown.
The book is basically exactly what its title suggests, a history of human energy use. This may not sound exciting to most, but Rhodes gives a human tale to each energy source, and provides interesting historical context to each resource he covers. He brings up stories that are not well known to the public (probably not well known to many but historians of the era), and shows his keen ability to explain science in regular English without losing much of the nuance. I would not say this book is as much a masterpiece as Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would not say it is very far behind in quality from it.
I think this would be a great read for just about anyone with even a passing interest in how we have used energy and may in the future. Rhodes has a pro-nuclear viewpoint which he justifies very well in my opinion. He also does not push any strong view onto the reader and lets the stories he tells, and how he tells them guide you towards thinking anew on how we should meet our energy needs.
I have read and enjoyed several books by Rhodes so when I saw this on the bookstore I bought it immediately. As others have noted, it starts off with interesting history and ends with as an apologia for nuclear power plants. The history is largely a technocratic one, which is fine to a certain extent but totally inadequate to the scale and significance of the topic. But when we he becomes argumentative it takes a number of bizarre turns, including a fairly sicko one. Rachel Carson, when she was writing her classic book Silent Spring, he proposes, “…was suffering the toxic effects of chemotherapy when she condemned the toxic effects of pesticides. Radiation treatments sicked her as she denounced radiation’s deadly risks. Was her body the paradisiacal small town of her book’s first chapter….?” One of my favorite historians has been reduced to a oddball hack.
- Solid industrial history that all citizens should understand. The material is interesting, appears well researched and accurate. I expanded my understanding. I also like how he links positive developments from development, technical advancement and industrialization – benifits that make our lives much more comfortable today – with secondary consequences that we need to address and manage.
I was truly surprised by the lack of detail on the advancements in wind and solar. Thought I might have missed a chapter. From the level of detail on advancements from 1700 through 1960, the book seams to drop off over the last 50 years. If the author would have included this material I could have given it 5 stars, as I truly enjoyed the periods covered on burning of wood and coal, development of steam power, development of petroleum, and nuclear.
- My guess is Mr. Rhodes had some topics to discuss and some excellent detailed research about those topics to use, and then needed to round his work into a book, adding more material. The “human history” of the subtitle is there, with many key figures identified by name in a serious look at the early evolution of steam power, in the first wave of oil production in western Pennsylvania, schemes to get hydropower at Niagara Falls, and various others. Some of that content is very solid and informative, helping to rescue some of the players from complete obscurity. Mr. Rhodes wasn’t about to do a full retrospective on the oil industry, and needed a niche for this book, as he even referred directly to the classic “The Prize” about the rise of oil.
Other parts on whaling and renewables were less engaging, and detoured on to some side topics not specifically about energy. The ending on nuclear power was a poor fit and left me with a dissatisfied feeling upon completion.
Also, clearly the book is focused on British and American work, with the main exception being the search for oil in Arabia and a few other brief mentions. What was going on in the rest of the world at the time?