A Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba traces modernity's great civilization-changing shifts of population, agriculture, energy and economics, which have opened the door for a fifth transition: environmental changes from natural-resource depletion, biodiversity loss and global warming—which will determine the fate of the grand transitions that have made the world we live in today.
... a sweeping account of the deep material forces that have shaped the modern world ... Smil has an eye for interesting details, but he is better at showing the interconnections, turning points, and pathways of societal change than in pinpointing cause and effect. Nevertheless, he tells a remarkable story of the human capacity to innovate, build, and integrate societies across vast distances.
Smil is a conjurer with numbers ... he works to show just how thoroughly this is now a planet of our making ... An air of tragedy hangs over this book ... he doesn’t presume to say much about...politics, which gets almost no attention in this book ... Alas, in politics as in engineering, we would have to do better in the very near future than we have ever managed in the past.
Readers will encounter the usual bad news about the environment...but Smil’s focus on facts and recent history situates him in a moderate position between catastrophists and those who tout a future of 'general and unstoppable improvement.' The author mostly (but not entirely) avoids turgid academic prose, and he isn’t shy about delivering information, often overwhelming readers with facts, statistics, and analyses. The result is an expert portrait of spectacular technical and economic advances that many in the 21st century enjoy but which exclude large segments of the population and are creating problems that may or may not be solvable. Ingenious, insightful, and disturbing.