Vaclav Smil’s latest book explores growth in nature and society. It examines the rules and patterns of growth in four key domains, those of the living world; human energy consumption; human artifacts; and human populations, societies and economies. The author is a passionate advocate of quantitative analysis, and thus Growth is filled with numbers, graphs and mathematical notation. Yet it’s written to be easily understood by non-mathematicians, making brilliant but accessible use of statistics to illustrate salient features of growth in all its terrestrial forms (the book’s scope is limited to Earth). In short, Growth is a compelling read for statisticians and non-statisticians alike.
A favorite author of Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and a Foreign Policy magazine Top 100 Global Thinker, Smil is known for his multidisciplinary approach, energy-related expertise and penchant for packing his many books with all manner of fascinating facts. Growth‘s chapter on the biological realm supplies as fine a sampling of this latter propensity as can be found. Did you know that average dinosaur body volumes declined at the beginning of the final period of the Mesozoic era but then made a near-comeback to their previous highs by the time of the dinosaurs’ extinction? You will after reading this book–and if you’re as much of a nerd as I am, you’ll relish this and innumerable other scientific tidbits. You’ll also be awed by the 100-page bibliography and the fact that scarcely a sentence goes by without some bit of quantitative analysis or scholarly citation.
Prehistoric trivia aside, Smil’s chapter on the living world rightly focuses on those life forms most necessary to humanity’s survival and the functioning of the biosphere. These include, of course, modern-day trees and forests, microorganisms, agricultural crops and animals.
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