Here are the non fiction books I have read that don’t fall into one of the other categories.
Crude: The Story of Oil
by Sonia Shah
Read March 2008
Lately, I have been reading a lot more non-fiction than fiction. While I enjoy a good fictional story, there is a lot of mediocre fiction out there and not much that I consider worthwhile. So I concentrate on non-fiction because then I can learn something.
However, some non-fiction books veer over into the fiction, especially when the author is trying to make a point. This happens in "Crude: The Story of Oil" by Sonia Shah. This is an interesting and informative book and includes a lot of information with a ton of references. However, Shah often veers into tirades against oil that read more like fiction than fact.
In "The Curse of Crude" chapter, Shah gives a description of how Shell basically raped the land and people after they discovered oil in the Niger Delta. Reading this, I was appalled. However, in the next chapter "Carbon Perils" she denigrates Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) and says it would "revolve around technofixes to enable decades of continued oil drilling." I am familiar with GCEP and just attended their five-year progress seminar. They are working on many different projects and are spending 40% of their funds on renewable energy, 17% on batteries and fuel cells and 11% on hydrogen - all projects that will reduce dependence on oil. Maybe Shah is objecting to the 17% GCEP spends on CO2 capture and storage, 9% on advanced combustion and 3% on advanced coal. However, even these last are worthwhile projects and could hardly be considered "technofixes to enable continued drilling."
For me, this one inaccurate tirade is the peephole that casts doubt over the accuracy of all her other editorial statements about the evil of oil companies and oil production. Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile book and provides a lot of good information about oil and the oil industry.
Shattered Consensus: The True State of Global Warming
by Patrick J. Michaels
Read March 2008
It is amazing how much vitriol is directed at those that ask questions about climate change instead of blindly accepting the party line. Some say that climate denial is “in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial” others the "there is a case for making climate change denial an offense — it is a crime against humanity after all." Even the top scientist of the IPCC said: “Where is the difference between Lomborg’s view on humans and Hitler’s?" But the problem is when you look more closely at the science of climate change, you discover there really is not much certainty at all.
This is made clear in "Shattered Consensus" which is a collection of papers edited by Patrick Michaels. The book starts out with Ross McKitrick's discussion of the problems in Mann's "Hockey Stick" climate index, which is a very interesting read since the Mann climate graph was used extensively throughout the TAR but is deeply flawed.
Robert Davis's paper on "Climate Change and Human Health" showed how in recent years, heat deaths have gone down in developed countries in large part due to more pervasive air-conditioning. This struck me as ironic since Kyoto would have us turn off our air-conditioners to reduce the amount of CO2 produced, but this would then increase the amount of heat deaths.
Posmentier and Soon in "Limitations of Computer Predictions of Carbon Dioxide Effects" found that "no reliable predictions currently exist for the response of clouds to increased atmosphere CO2", which is an extremely important factor since clouds have a much higher affect on climate than CO2. They note: "a 4 percent increase in the area of stratus clous over the globe could also potentially compensate for the estimated warming of a double atmosphereic CO2 concentration (Miles et al. 2000)." They conclude the book by noting "Our current lack of understanding of the earth's climate system does not allow us to determine reliably the magnitude of the climate change that will be caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions."
In other words, there really is no consensus on global warming.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
by Jared Diamond
Read December 2007
Jared Diamond doesn't like to take on small subjects. His first book, "Guns, Germs and Steel" discussed how civilization started. In this book, "Collapse", he discusses his theories on how some civilizations ended. As his previous book, it is an interesting and provocative read. Especially with all the global warming fears going on right now, this book provides some interesting case studies on how some civilizations were wiped out because of climate change and their inability to conserve their natural resources. Diamond certainly makes this link explicit in Part Four of the book "Practical Lessons". However, this is the weakest part of the book and it is just preaching to the choir since the case studies make these same points just as clearly. On the other hand, one probably undesirable conclusion that Diamonds well researched case studies also makes painfully clear is that dramatic climate change has been happening throughout man's history and that recognizing that climate change will continue to occur no matter what we do and that we need to be adaptable to survive it, belies many global warming advocates contention that it will be sufficient if we just reverse man's effects on the environment.
Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming
by Chris Mooney
Read December 2007
It seems like most people have a very difficult time approaching the subject of global warming subjectively. Even reporters (maybe especially reporters!) can't seem to help bring in their own biases to subjects they write about. This is certainly the case with Chris Mooney in "Storm World." For instance, he often discounts groups that don't believe in global warming by saying they "took money from oil companies" as if this by itself negates everything these "tainted" groups believe. He also goes overboard in continually but politely ridiculing William Gray, a towering figure of hurricane science and staunch global warming denier. The problem with being biased of course is that we can't be really sure that the conclusions that are drawn are also not biased. Nonetheless, this is actually a very good book and provides an informative and entertaining take on the history, conflicts and politics of hurricane research. And Mooney does seem to try to provide a fairly balanced debate and give at least some mention to both sides of the debaute. So I am fairly confident that his overall conclusion that increasing sea temperatures are likely to cause more or more powerful hurricanes is probably accurate.
Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future
by Jeff Goodell
Read November 2007
Coal. That black, dirty substance that is likely to be both the saviour and bane of the world. It will be the saviour because there is lots of it, and once we start running out of cheap oil it will likely start powering more and more of the world. But it will also be our bane because it produce twice as much CO2 as natural gas and also emits a host of other toxins. In "Big Coal" by Jeff Goodell, coal is presented in the front jacked as a "devastating, century-long legacy that has claimed millions of lives and ravaged the environment", so at least we know up-front where he is coming from. The book had more anecedotal stories than real facts and science, but overall was an interesting read.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming (and Environmentalism)
by Christopher C. Horner
Read November 2007
Ouch. Don't read this book unless you think that all people that believe in global warming are idiots, or you have a very, very thick skin. Unlike "Storm World" that was biased in a polite way, "The Politcally Incorrect Guide to Global Warming" pulls no punches and with the tenor of a right-wing radio talk show, launches into a barbed vendetta against environmentalist and global warming advocates. Which is too bad, because Christopher Horner actually makes some good points in this book and provides quite a bit of documented science.
For instance, after seeing "An Inconvenient Truth", I was curious about the temperature graph that showed stable temperatures for the last 1000 years and then a sudden spike in the last part of the 20th century. I couldn't find any information the science behind this on Climate Crisis or any other place I looked, but "The PIG Guide to Global Warming" tackled this head on and pointed out many of the problems of this reconstruction, in particular that it doesn't show the Medieval Warming Period or the Little Ice Age. Horner also discusses how there really is no "global" temperature and that the Southern Hemisphere has shown virtually now warming. He also mentions that in 1990 thousands of Russian temperature measuring stations closed, many of them in cold regions, which could skew temperature data.
So even though reading this book caused me to wince often, it did provide some interesting data that contradicts many global warming beliefs.
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
by Bjorn Lomborg
Read November 2007
Rating: SE (Safe for Environmentalist). Unlike many other books that take a contrarian view to global warming, "Cool It" doesn't bash environmentalist or global warming advocates. Actually, Bjorn Lomborg starts out from the position that "global warming is happening and the consequences are important and mostly negative." Where he diverges is in the next step of what we do about it. He believes that "Cutting CO2 -- even substantially -- will not much matter for the problems on this (global warming) list."
The title of the book "Cool It" has a double meaning in referring to both alleviating global warming, and also turning down the screaming and global warming and instead reclaiming sensible dialogue. He goes through many of the problems of global warming including polar bears, rising temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and provides reasonable scientific analysis of the severity of each of these problems, and also what the most cost effective way of dealing with them is.
For instance, he notes that even if we take the flawed study that we are losing 15 Hudson Bay polar bears each year due to global warming at face value, the easiest way to solve this problem is to reduce the number of permits for hunting bears which currently results in about 49 bears being shot each year. He also notes that global warming will result in more heat deaths, but it will also result in a much greater number of people not dying from the cold!
Overall this was a very interesting book with lots of rational science behind it and should be read by anyone that is interested in global warming and what we should do about it.
The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President's Life After the White House
by R. Emmett Tyrrell
Read: October 2007
The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What It Means for All of Us
by Robyn Meredith
Read: October 2007
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization
by Thomas Homer-Dixon
Read: September 2007
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality
by Brian Greene
Read: July 2007
Are you interested in how the universe started and where it will end up? Who isn't! So this is the book that will answer all your questions. From Higgs-Boson particles to string theory to the expansion of time-space, all the answers to your questions are here. And you don't need an advanced degree in astro-physics to get it. While the book at times delves into some fairly complicated principles, it never leaves the layman far behind. Definitely a recommended read for all so we can start having some more intelligent arguments about whether the Higgs particle really exists.
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
by Thomas L. Friedman
My brother-in-law, Shawn Singh, gave this book to my Dad to read. However, when I was up in Healdsburg in the Spring of 2006, I started reading it and became so engrossed that I couldn’t put it down. Much of the ideas in this book were obvious to me, having lived in Silicon Valley the last 15 years, but Friedman presented them in a clear and interesting way, and also drew some further conclusions that were not obvious.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
by Chris Anderson