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Good Energy Reading for the Beach?

I used to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my in-laws in Portland, OR. A couple years ago, it snowed for two days straight, and the city shut down. My brother-in-law has taken it upon himself to find a warm-weather holiday destination for the family ever since.

beach-palm-sea-tropical-awesomeAs I head for the beach, I’d love guidance on good reading material. For starters, below are a couple books I’ve come across or that colleagues have recommended.

  1. The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World, by Russell Gold. I’ve gotten a lot of endorsements for this. Colleagues claim it is very well written and a thorough treatment of fracking, including technological, environmental, economic and social aspects. Gold is an energy reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
  1. Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West, by Judith Nies. My husband just finished this – kind of the energy version of the movie Chinatown (which I’ve watched, so won’t be downloading for the trip – I recommend it if you have not seen it). It describes the politics and business deals that unlocked 21 billion tons of coal on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations to bring electricity to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
  1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba. This is an autobiographical story about a boy in Malawi who built a windmill from scratch to bring energy to his village. He is discovered by NGOs and reporters and eventually invited to do a neat TED talk/interview. Again, multiple recommendations for this.
  1. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future, by Paul Sabin. This uses a famous bet between two academics over the future path of prices for five raw materials to examine the resource catastrophe movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Severin Borenstein describes it as, “essential context for understanding the climate change debate today, both the similarities and the critical differences.”
  1. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. This is not an energy book (the power in the title is a synonym for “might” on the world stage), but I had to put it on the list as Lucas Davis pointed out that some of their best evidence comes from comparing electricity/lighting use between S. and N. Korea. I love world-at-night pictures, and this one is impressive.


  1. Waiting for the Electricity: A Novel, by Christina Nichol. This is the only entry in the fiction category, but I am a sucker for fiction with an energy theme. The Wall Street Journal included it on their best books of 2014 list (though maybe this is like taking stock tips from the New York Review of Books…?)

Any thoughts, loyal blog readers? If you’ve read these books, which would you recommend? Any others to add to the list?

I debated adding The Prize, by Daniel Yergin, but (a) I’m the lone holdout in my family and don’t own a Kindle, so I can’t imagine lugging that to the beach, and (b) I have read parts of it already.

Happy Holidays!



Catherine Wolfram View All

Catherine Wolfram is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and the Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. ​She is the Program Director of the National Bureau of Economic Research's Environment and Energy Economics Program, Faculty Director of The E2e Project, a research organization focused on energy efficiency and a research affiliate at the Energy Institute at Haas. She is also an affiliated faculty member of in the Agriculture and Resource Economics department and the Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley.

Wolfram has published extensively on the economics of energy markets. Her work has analyzed rural electrification programs in the developing world, energy efficiency programs in the US, the effects of environmental regulation on energy markets and the impact of privatization and restructuring in the US and UK. She is currently implementing several randomized controlled trials to evaluate energy programs in the U.S., Ghana, and Kenya.

She received a PhD in Economics from MIT in 1996 and an AB from Harvard in 1989. Before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley, she was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Harvard.

18 thoughts on “Good Energy Reading for the Beach? Leave a comment

  1. Slightly off topic: Spencer Weart’s The Rise of Nuclear Fear. Weart is Director Emeritus, Center for the History of Physics at American Physical Society; he also wrote a History of Global Warming. He talks about nuclear power, but also how the discussion of nuclear fit into memes that entered society through literature long before the 20th century (eg, the golden city, or only two survivors of a great catastrophe, one female, one male crawl off to Australia). The way we talk about the problems that energy solutions must address, and the solutions themselves, is also important.

  2. I like the Boom, but the first book to delve deeply into the fracking revolution is “The Frackers”, by George Zuckerman. The writing is a bit uneven, but in general I found it a compelling narrative of the personalities that played such a key role in the development of this critical new technology.

    Chuck Mason

  3. Very nice list. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve heard The Great Texas Wind Rush by Kate Galbraith and Asher Price is great. It tells the story behind Texas’ unlikely wind-energy boom.

  4. For those seeking perspective and a break from the current energy/environmental issues, I would recommend Eden on the Charles by Michael Rawson published by the Harvard Univ Press. It’s a good antidote to thinking that there is anything new about the mixture of science, politics, and ideology that informs today’s energy/environmental debate. It’s even more interesting for anyone who has spent time on the Charles without giving a thought to how what is so characteristic of Boston came to be.

  5. Certainly not a sleeper, but still, Isaacson’s The Innovators, is a great read. Techno-nerd types will perhaps will be a bit frustrated about the light treatment of the technology. To me, and I am sure to others, there is great benefit of the book as a sleeper on innovation and management processes.

  6. Nice list – though it comes a bit late for my Christmas present requests! I can endorse both The Prize and his follow-up, The Quest ( – and the UK paperback edition of the latter is a lot more compact than the former. Why Nations Fail makes a very good case for the role of institutions in development.

    Has “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” by David MacKay crossed the pond? Cambridge’s Regius Professor of Engineering (and past Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change) asks whether renewable energy could meet the demands of an average UK household, working from physical first principles… or for a free pdf.

  7. Well, hopefully you get to put my book on the list next year (although it’s not going to be as interesting as Yergin’s).

    Meanwhile, some critical thoughts of the focus of energy institutes like Haas, here:

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