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.
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.

Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

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…