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

  • Centre for Alternative Technology Eco Store - ... extraordinary ... ground breaking ... We simply cannot recommend this book highly enough.
  • 17 Feb 2010 'Five Books' - review by Prof John Shepherd. [link broken]
  • 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. "
  • "The main text of his book is readable (and witty) and its technical appendices bristle with equations. If the planet and its people are the patient, MacKay's book is the the lab results, temperature chart and electrocardiogram." — The New York Review of Books (April 26, 2012)
  • "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." — Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft
  • "I would choose Sustainable Energy as a text over its competitors because MacKay has moved the energy discussion in the direction where energy alternatives can be considered quantitatively." — American Journal of Physics
  • The Economist, August 11th, 2012, in a review of another book, write: "Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air", a recent minor classic by a Cambridge don, David MacKay. Armed only with the laws of physics, reams of publicly available information, a little maths and much wit, Mr MacKay attempted to dispel the fog and special pleading surrounding renewable energy. His aim was to demonstrate exactly how much power Britain could hope to gain from wind farms, solar panels, nuclear reactors and the like.
  • 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

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.
  3. Review By Nick on amazon.co.uk - Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air (Paperback) I was interested in a good objective assessment about the potential role of sustainable energy in meeting total energy demand. The book did this in a fascinating way and I lost a weekend as I couldn't put it down! Excellent.

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. 11.3.2010 Mark Brinkley: Is David MacKay becoming part of the problem?
  5. David Mackay plays 'Brutus' to the Sun's 'Caesar' Here is a webpage that is critical of SEWTHA, asserting that "MacKay has a secret pro-nuclear bias", that I am anti-solar and that I am just parroting pro-nuclear inaccuracies. Is this the same anti-solar MacKay-Brutus who wrote As long as we can build peaceful international collaborations, solar power in other people's deserts certainly has the technical potential to provide us, them, and everyone with 125 kWh per day per person.? Two minor comments from me on this 'review': (1) The author, Jim Hickey, seems to get most of his facts about SEWTHA's contents, and its alleged inaccuracies (eg, alleging that I misstated British energy consumption in part I of the book), from reading what other people wrote about it on the internet, rather than from actually reading the book. (2) Possible evidence of Jim Hickey's lack of effort to research his topic: he says, in his complimentary opening paragraphs, that I am a Professor at Oxford!
  6. Laurent Franckx wrote a review (13 March 2011) that is largely positive - "this is probably the most transparent book I have ever read, and it sets a very high standard for any future work in this field" - but it does contain three criticisms (concerning public transport; my discussion of markets; and resource costs) - Laurent's final paragraph says: Of course, within the larger picture, these are minor comments. On the whole, this book is an impressive intellectual achievement. [copy of Laurent's review]
  7. Achieve fame and fortune... your criticisms could be displayed here!

Other mentions of the book

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