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Energy with meaning

Naturevolume 441pages577578 (2006) | Download Citation

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Dictionary of Energy

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Elsevier: 2005. 512 pp. $85, £50, €75 0080445780 | ISBN: 0-080-44578-0

Where to go for a definition of peak oil? What is an environmental Kuznets curve, and why was OPEC established? The expanding field of energy studies at last has its own encyclopaedic dictionary. Elsevier's Dictionary of Energy is all you could want in a book of this kind. Comprehensive and readable, it is a treat for fact-checkers and casual browsers alike.

The dictionary's coverage includes the science of energy, economics, sociology, policy and energy in world history. The list of entries is peppered with more than 100 commissioned short essays on an array of topics and concepts. Many of these have been written by some of the leading names in the business.

The essay on the theory that oil production is close to peaking, for example, carries the name of the theory's main proponent, Colin Campbell. Robert Costanza, one of the leaders of the field of ecological economics, has provided a short essay on natural capital. The late Charles Keeling contributed an essay on the Mauna Loa curve, which describes the rate of change of atmospheric carbon dioxide over time; Keeling's measurements from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii were one of the first signals of climate change.

There are also short biographies of individuals who have made a lasting contribution, such as Vladimir Zworykin, the Russian-born physicist who patented the use of magnetic fields to guide cathode rays to produce fluorescent images on a screen.

The dictionary lacks a table of contents, which means that the page after Zworykin's entry is both a surprise and a real delight: it is a collection of energy-related quotations (both funny and serious) from the past two centuries. Winston Churchill, Homer Simpson and Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia's former oil minister, all make an appearance here. So too does Golda Meir, Israel's formidable prime minister in the early 1970s. “Let me tell you something we Israelis have against Moses,” she is quoted as saying. “He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.”

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  1. Ehsan Masood is a freelance journalist and editor (with Daniel Schaffer) of Dry: Life Without Water (Harvard University Press, 2006).

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https://doi.org/10.1038/441577b

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