Sustainable Energy - without the hot air

Sustainable Energy - without the hot air


Mainstream reviews | Reviews on blogs | Reviews in other languages | Mentions on blogs | Discussion sites | Critical reviews | Other mentions
Review by D. Bull (Wellington, New Zealand), from amazon.com

I work for an environmental watchdog in New Zealand. I flicked through the first few pages of "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" as it sat on a colleague's desk, took it back to my own desk and read it for two hours straight, got online and bought my own copy. It's that good.

For a start, this is how environmental science should be communicated; crystal clear text and honest graphs, with simplified theory and ballpark calculations that anyone can follow, backed up by empirical data as a check on results, real examples, frequent references, and explanations of limitations.

But the thinking behind it is every bit as good. MacKay is entirely pragmatic about energy supply and demand, never preachy, and he is game enough to admit when his results surprise even himself. If he is cautiously optimistic in his conclusions, it is because he has laid out a number of justifiable options. Buy it. Better still, buy it and read it.

Mainstream reviews | Reviews on blogs | Reviews in other languages | Mentions on blogs | Discussion sites | Critical reviews | Other mentions

Mainstream Reviews

  • 15 Jan 2010 Bill Gates - Clear Thinking on the Topic of Energy 'If someone wants an overall view of how energy gets used, where it comes from, and the challenges in switching to new sources, this is the book to read. ... I was thrilled to see a book that is scientific, numeric, broad, open-minded, and well written on a topic where a lot of narrow, obscure, non-numeric writing confuses the public. People need to really understand what is going on and then be part of the process of moving the world to a new energy infrastructure.'
  • PLUS magazine - review by Oli Freke - "...important and engagingly written book"
  • 12 Oct 2009 - The Register - "Highly visual and with a great use of diagrams ... it discusses everything from wind and solar to cars, planes and gadgets. It's a common sense approach to a delicate topic."
  • Physics World - 'a book every budding physicist should read - and perhaps also ... the one every working physicist would like to have written.'
    'the book would be a good way of introducing teenagers to how real physicists work – all the more so because MacKay's treatment of energy is much more positive and empowering than either the school physics curriculum or most environmental literature.'
  • Canadian Business online: "A fascinating book that carefully evaluates a myriad of energy sources ranging from nuclear generators to windmills. It's down to earth, conversational in tone, and filled with facts, not emotion. While British in focus, it offers insight for everyone."
  • "August 2009" - Building Sustainable Design interview with David MacKay by Mark Jansen
  • 7/7/09 - strategy+business - features an interview with DJCM
  • The Ecologist - 101 Resources for a Better World - Without the Hot Air
    An Inconvenient Truth was not an elegant film, but it did help change the world. David MacKay’s critically acclaimed Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air may not have the prettiest front cover in the world, but it admirably crunches the numbers on renewable energy devices, electric cars, nuclear power and a host of other innovations, showing which are worth pursuing and which are merely snake oil."
  • Review by Robert Butler - The Economist's INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2009 - "It's geek heaven: full of killer stats that you immediately want to pass on"
  • 19 June 2009 - Science magazine - "a cold blast of reality ... a must-read analysis ... I found MacKay's book by turns exhilarating and terrifying. His calculations are always thought-provoking even when his assumptions had me banging the table in disagreement. My objections often faded as his analysis unfolded."
  • 15 May 2009 - Tim Harford, FT.com - "a remarkable book"
  • 30 April 2009 - Guardian: Power to the people - "How did a Cambridge physics professor come to write this year's must-read book about tackling our future energy needs?"
  • 16 April 2009 - centre for journalism 'This book is uses language accessible to the general reader, tackles an extremely complex area of policy with simple clarity, and cuts through the prevailing rhetoric and ignorance about these matters. What more could you want?'
  • 14 April 2009 FT.com
  • 9 April 2009 Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air: the Freakonomics of conservation, climate and energy by Cory Doctorow, boingboing - "may be the best technical book about the environment that I've ever read" [local copy of review]
  • 8 April 2009 The Economist - 'The book is a tour de force... For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the real problems involved, "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air" is the place to start.'
  • SuDoBE - Chris Tweed "It's a rare event, but every once in a while a book comes along that is so good, so comprehensive that it becomes 'the bible' for a discipline and a standard reference. I predict David MacKay's book, Sustainable Energy - without the hot air, will be one of those. "
  • 1 March 2009 - Professor Michael J Kelly FRS, Civil Service Network
  • Prof John Peacock FRS
  • Prof Bob White FRS
  • Prof Mike Ashby FRS
  • Frank Stajano
  • Wolfgang Rindler
Reviews on blogs
  • 10 Dec 2009 - Nuclear Power industry News, review by Randy Birch - 'MacKay's treatise could likely become the Bible of the entire sustainable energy community.'
  • 22 Nov 2009 - Po Ve Sham - 'a masterpiece of environmental information communication'
  • 21 Nov 2009 - seeker blog - 'This is the book I wish I had written.'
  • Bishop Alan: "Global Warming reality checkpoint" David MacKay's English is fluent and fun. ... This is the level and kind of information we need to understand our future options and make decisions which are realistic and effective about a subject which has hitherto generated far more heat than light.
  • Plain text - "Great Writing" - MacKay is that wonderful and rare combination, an articulate physicist. ... The book is a superb example of the power of clear language, with short, active sentences deftly flinging around some very complex subjects.
  • 10 November 2009 - Looking for balance - 'an amazing book'
  • 9 Nov 2009 - dw2 - 'an exemplary book'
  • 2 Nov 2009 - Cleantechies.com (Edouard Stenger) "20/20. A must read."
  • 1 Nov 2009 - School Recycling
  • trianglesustainability
  • 1 Oct 2009 - "time is energy". "David MacKay does an excellent job of relating the enormity/difficulty of decarbonizing our energy system TO EACH INDIVIDUAL PERSON."
  • elrst.com - 'A must read'
  • Free form dynamics.com (pdf) review by David Tebbutt of TEblog
  • Review by Strategic Sustainability Consulting - "very fun to read" - Emilia Pramova
  • Inventive opportunity "David was successful in taking topics that are complex or seem to be and simplifying it, so the reader can grasp and utilize the information. A great reference tool that I will be re-reading more than a few times. ... An excellent book and well worth the read."
  • "Put carts on the public bus" by Lee M. Followed by a discussion of bus transportation.
  • 16 July 2009 - Pull the Sky Down - "an excellent field guide"
  • 10 July 09 - Devon Fine Fibres
  • 09 July 09 - Chris Schilling, Saginaw Valley State University - Michigan Business Review
  • 10 July 09 - worldchanging & Climate Progress
  • 5 July 2009 - Trimorphic metanoia "Why should I care?" - "a really excellent and thoroughly enjoyable (often laugh-out-loud) book"
  • 3 July 2009 - A sibilant intake of breath
  • 2 July 2009 - Advanced Home Analysts a fascinating, immensely readable book
  • 1 July 2009 - slashdot
  • 15 June 2009 - The Other I
  • 15 June 2009 - MapAWatt - Brilliant!'
  • Book Depository - "because I thought it was so dull-looking, I didn't bother to highlight it. But I really, really should have done. This is an excellent book and one that is fast-becoming a bestseller. ... Whatever you do, don't pass over this book like I did because it looks dull. It isn't dull, it's vitally important."
  • 1 6 09 - Do it Yourself Renewable Energy - "We strongly recommend the book to anyone involved in renewable energy. It is a refreshing view on the role of renewable energy in our future … Truly informative".
  • 29 5 09 - The Write Times 'Writing worth reading' - "a scientist who writes in plain English."
  • 19 May 2009 - Design News, Matthew Traum: - MacKay's "Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air" Quantifies Technology Constraints
  • 19 May 2009 - the big bang to now - "Yes we can! but it’s harder than we thought" - "I have just found what I think might be the most brilliant book on climate change on the market for people who care about the environment but might not be physicists, climatologists, or politicians."
  • 8 May 2009 - barrier-busting.com - "Very thorough, well-researched, and easy to read."
  • 6 May 2009 - GoGreen - University of the Arts London - "this is a terrifically readable book ... greatly entertaining ... A breath of fresh air."
  • 30 April 2009 - Monkey Mosaic
  • 29 April 2009 - The Third Bit - "First response: brilliant. Second response: absolutely brilliant. ... What I like most is that he isn't just trying to lay out the options, he's trying to show us what kinds of arguments and plans we should be willing to accept. That's why I think SEWTHA would be a great text for a first-year general science course: it does a better job than any book I've read since Epstein's Thinking Physics (now sadly out of print) of showing readers what practical, numerate thinking actually looks like."
  • 28 April 2009 - Electronics Weekly - 'It is delightfully informal, full of hard information, very good at putting things in perspective.'
  • 26 April 2009 - webswonder "if you know anyone half interested in the topic of sustainable energy, point them to this book or buy it for them. It's a gem."
  • 18 April 2009 - dysfunctor - "A must read"
  • 13 April 2009 MikeM 'What is especially distinctive is that he does the numbers. The UK has huge potential for wind power. Right. But how much is "huge" and how does it compare with existing huge appetite for fossil fuels? (answer: small.) MacKay systematically works through the major uses of fossil fuel quantifying each one, then the major sources of sustainable energy with similar quantification. Is renewable energy viable to maintain the British way of life? Conclusion? Read the book and see. In clearer and more lucid prose that you could ever imagine coming out of a university physics department, MacKay demands no more than that his readers put aside preconceptions, and that they know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. (There is plenty of technical stuff and reference data to back up his arguments but it is kept to chapters at the back of the book.) Absolutely recommended.
  • 16 April 2009 matthew henry john bartlett 'Recommended book'
  • 14 April 2009 Cleanventures (Tim Chapman) 'I'd strongly recommend the book to anyone involved in sustainable energy, whether as technology developer, investor or policy-maker; and whether your main interest is in renewables, nuclear or clean(er) fossil fuels, or in energy efficiency. ... The basic message is that the necessary reformation of our energy system requires major action. Perhaps most importantly, it also demands more realism in facing the challenges than is often encountered on any side of the debate. ... In all, it's a remarkably provocative and eye-opening analysis. No less remarkably, it's also very accessible - clearly and entertainingly written with diagrams and doodles aplenty, but with exhaustive footnotes and references and the more technical bits rounded up at the end. Highly recommended.'
  • 14 April 2009 An Inconvenient Truthiness - 'Maybe the ardor of the radicals and the reason of centrists like MacKay will marry, and we'll end up with some genuinely practical solutions for our environmental problems.'
  • 14 April 2009 foonyor barzane - 'I recommend it to everybody, but beware that it might cost you many lost hours'
  • April 2009: Peter Braden: If you only read one book about energy this year, make it this one.
  • James Alexander reviews SEWTHA alongside 'Now is the time - 3 years to save the world, by J-M Jancovici and A.Grandjean' - The similarities in MacKay and Jancovici's thinking and approaches are quite uncanny.("Great minds think alike"?)'
  • April 10 2009 - Kang's blog
  • The Clay Review - "...a refreshing take on the role of renewable energy in our future ... I really enjoyed zipping through this book. It is truly informative rather than polemical, and best of all it's free."
  • Jonathan Friedman - "Read this free on-line book... David MacKay simplifies the issue, yet gives hard data to support his arguments. It is what IPCC and other climate change organizations should be doing."
  • "A crystal-clear and quantitative view of the road towards a low-carbon economy" Bruno De Wachter, Leonardo Energy 2009-01-22
  • Johnny Rook: "Brilliant New Book Teaches You How to Evaluate Sustainable Energy Claims"
  • 24 Feb 2009 energy from thorium.com (Robert Hargraves) - "Great new book"
  • network.nature.com - "Read this book" (Brian Derby)
  • Fri 16/1/09 AshdenAwards: Review by Dave Howey of Imperial College
  • democratic underground `This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in energy issues. I can't heap enough praise on this book.'
  • 19 Dec 2008: futerra review by Ed Gillespie. 'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' is a quite brilliant piece of work ... It's a quite incredible, revelatory experience reading it as it confirms many things we suspect might be true and dispels many of the commonly perceived myths. I would recommend it as compulsory reading!
  • laborview
  • Best Foot Forward Fri 12 Dec 2008: 'When setting out to write The ZEDBook: solutions for a shrinking world (recent winner of a RIBA Presidents Award for Research) in 2005, we could find no credible, detailed studies which set out a comprehensive sustainable energy policy for the UK (or indeed anywhere else). We were somewhat surprised by this. Surely, without an understanding of how much renewable energy we potentially have, how can the Government set standards, targets and guidelines for industry, new buildings, vehicles, material supply chains, existing housing stock and so on? 'So, somewhat reluctantly given the enormity of the task, we set about devising our own strategy which ended up being shoehorned into Chapter 3 of The ZEDBook. Others have since addressed this gaping hole in the UK's energy policy and collected together their own thoughts. George Monbiot set out his views in Heat; CAT put together Zero Carbon Britain; and, most recently, David MacKay has published Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air.
    'The latter is, without doubt, the most detailed analysis to date and sets out clear options for moving forward - including one alternative which is close to own our thinking in The ZEDbook. Of course, there is no one right answer to providing secure, green energy - there are inevitably uncertainties and choices that can be made; technical, political and social. That said, Without the Hot Air is a great read; informative, technically competent and well structured. Go and buy it or read it (for free) online at www.withouthotair.com.'
  • Bill Harris, USA - "clearly, cogently, and interestingly put"
  • meteoLCD (fmassen)
  • Brian Karpuk, Newsburglar (reviewing pre-publication draft, July 2nd 2008): 'Its an absolutely incredible read.' part 1 part 2 part 3 (useful data!) part 4 part 5
  • Review of pre-publication draft, Artvoice, August 31, 2008
  • Book review from 'The Razor' 23 June 2008 (a review of the draft book, pre-publication)
  • Review, Paul Waring, UK Unix Users' Group
  • More reviews from goodreads.com

Reviews in other languages

Mentions on blogs

Discussion sites

  1. opendemocracy has a webpage discussing the book.
  2. In this Greenpeace blog, a few people discuss the book and the similarities and differences between my "Plan G" and Greenpeace suggestions.

Critical sites

Someone suggested that I should include pointers to all websites that are critical of my book.

So here we go... [I will include any that appear to be written by people who have read the book.]

  1. Andrew Gelman likes the book ("MacKay has lots of beautiful graphs in his book--he did a great job presenting lots of information in an accessible way"), but has two or three criticisms. Here's an email from him, and a link to his blog.

    Just in case I didn't make it clear in my blog entry, I think your book is great. In addition to the graphs, I really like the way you explain the energy balance at a level of detail that lots of educated people (including science journalists, I hope) should be able to follow. I was hoping to see more of a discussion of Lomborg et al. because I'd hope that, if you make it clear where you and Lomborg differ and where you agree, maybe people could have a better sense of how to move forward.

    In any case, you've done a great service to the world by writing the book and I hope it does its part to shift the debate. Good luck with the book promotion, as well as with finding the time to do your machine learning research as well.

    Andrew Gelman's blog with the criticisms

  2. On this forum, some people assert that I don't pay sufficient attention to efficiency measures. (I thought that the 50% reductions in primary energy consumption sketched in my book's zero-carbon Britain plans would count as fairly ambitious efficiencies! Oh well.)
  3. "Brad Ideas" has written a brief review of SEWTHA which says "I only have a few faults to pick with the book, and he's not unaware of them." read Brad's quibbles...
  4. Achieve fame and fortune... your criticisms could be displayed here!

Other mentions of the book

Site last modified Sun Jan 24 18:32:49 GMT 2010