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Book review of Wrigley’s “Energy and the English Industrial revolution”

Book review of Wrigley’s “Energy and the English Industrial revolution”

Preface. I’ve made a strong case in my book “When trucks stop running” and this energyskeptic website that we will eventually return to wood and a 14th century lifestyle after fossil fuels are depleted.

So if you’re curious about what that lifestyle will be like, and how coal changed everything, this is the book for you.

One point stressed several times is that in all organic economies a steady state exists.  Or as economists put it, that there were just three “components essential in all material production; capital, labor, and land. The first two could be expanded as necessary to match increased demand, but the third could not, and rising pressure on this inflexible resource arrested growth and depressed the return to capital and the reward of labor.”

Then along came coal (and today oil and natural gas), which for a few centuries removed land as a limiting factor (though we’re awfully close the Malthusian limits as well, population is growing, cropland is shrinking as development builds over the best farm land near cities, which exist where they do because that was good crop land).

In today’s world, energy set the limits to growth, but in the future land once again will.  So will the quality of roads, how many forests exist whose wood can be gotten to towns and cities, and so on.  So if you’re in a transition town group or in other ways trying to make the future better, perhaps this book will give you some ideas.

If this world is too painful to contemplate, read some books about the Amish, which would be an ideal society for me minus the religious side of it.


A. Wrigley. 2010. Energy and the English Industrial revolution. Cambridge University Press.

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