> Skip to content
  • Published: 1 February 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241454404
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 448
  • RRP: $35.00

How the World Really Works

A Scientist's Guide to Our Past, Present, and Future




Delightfully contrarian, this is the one book you need to read to understand our modern world

We have never had so much information at our fingertips and yet most of us don't know how the world really works. This book explains seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. From energy and food production, through our material world and its globalization, to risks, our environment and its future, How the World Really Works offers a much-needed reality check - because before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts. In this ambitious and thought-provoking book we see, for example, that globalization isn't inevitable and that our societies have been steadily increasing their dependence on fossil fuels, making their complete and rapid elimination unlikely.

Vaclav Smil is neither a pessimist nor an optimist, he is a scientist; he is the world-leading expert on energy and an astonishing polymath. This is his magnum opus and is a continuation of his quest to make facts matter. Drawing on the latest science, including his own fascinating research, and tackling sources of misinformation head on - from Yuval Noah Harari to Noam Chomsky - ultimately Smil answers the most profound question of our age: are we irrevocably doomed or is a brighter utopia ahead?

  • Published: 1 February 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241454404
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 448
  • RRP: $35.00

Also by Vaclav Smil

See all

Praise for How the World Really Works

There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil . . . he is rigorously numeric, using data to illuminate every topic he writes about. The word "polymath" was invented to describe people like him

Bill Gates

Important

Mark Zuckerberg, on Energy

One of the world's foremost thinkers on development history and a master of statistical analysis . . . The nerd's nerd

Guardian

There is perhaps no other academic who paints pictures with numbers like Smil

Guardian

In a world of specialized intellectuals, Smil is an ambitious and astonishing polymath who swings for fences . . . They're among the most data-heavy books you'll find, with a remarkable way of framing basic facts

Wired

Vaclav Smil has led a 30-year career of interdisciplinary contrarianism, writing hundreds of scientific articles and dozens of books attacking sacred cows of Western environmental and geopolitical thought

Foreign Policy

For a couple of decades, Vaclav Smil has been on my go-to list when questions arise about global trends and risks, and particularly about energy. He is a distinguished professor on the environment faculty at the University of Manitoba but really should be in the department of everything

Andrew Revkin, The New York Times

One of the world's foremost experts on energy

Foreign Affairs

An author who does not allow facts to be obscured or overshadowed by politics

New York Review of Books

The man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy

Science Magazine

A radical thinker on energy and environmental issues

Financial Times

He's a slayer of bullshit

David Keith, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics & Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University

A compelling, fascinating, and most important, realistic portrait of the world and where it's going

Steven Pinker, on Numbers Don't Lie

If you are anxious about the future, and infuriated that we aren't doing enough about it, please read this book. It will ground you in an impressively wide span of real science. It offers something even more valuable than a new magic solution: you will understand why there isn't one

Paul Collier, author of The Future of Capitalism

Humanity needs to massively reduce its dependence on fossil fuel if it is to fight the existential threat of climate change. In this hard-hitting and eye-opening book, Smil points out that, despite the recent advances in alternative energy technologies, this reduction is going to be very difficult because we depend on fossil fuels not just for energy but for our basic material existence - food, shelter and healthcare, among others. Despite his sombre assessment, Smil is not an advocate of what he calls 'catastrophism'. He not only believes in human ingenuity (despite its unevenness) but also reminds us that there are many known and feasible measures to fight climate change that have been ignored in our fascination with techno-utopian hyperbole. Combining a brutally realistic assessment of the present and a trust in humanity's ability to change its future, this book is a guiding light in our fight against climate change

Ha-Joon Chang, author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism

Combining a brutally realistic assessment of the present and a trust in humanity's ability to change its future, this book is a guiding light in our fight against climate change. Very informative and eye-opening in many ways

Ha-Joon Chang, author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism

Related titles