I am happy to announce that my antilibrary is one book shorter. Earlier this week I finally beat my way through Vaclav Smil’s encyclopedic Energy and Nature in Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems.
The book was a fascinating one and I imagine that before July comes I will write a post or two on the (many!) things I have learned from it. However, it is only one book of many I wish to complete before summer’s end; my slog through large and exhaustive tomes has only just begun. I purchased the following books at the beginning of this month, ostensibly with the hope of completing them all before August:
Angus Maddison’s Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD.
Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization.
J.D. MacDougall’s Mountains, Mammals, Fire, and Ice: A Short History of Planet Earth.
Marten Scheffer’s Critical Transitions in Nature and Society.
And were I not glutton for punishment as it is, I also decided to pick up Vaclav Smil’s other encyclopedic qausi-reference work, The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change.
Energy and Nature in Society is certainly in one alcove in my anti-library. I reviewed Smil's book Global Catastrophes and Trends here.
Angus Maddison's site has a lot of useful information, especially his world historic estimates of GDP, population, and GDP per capita.
A good edition to any library, anti or otherwise. I warn you, however – Smil's work can at time seem like an endless collection of obscure factoids, most written in the least literary ("1000" is always "10^3") way possible. However, his erudite chapter conclusions make up for this, and one could always skip the parts not of interest. Indeed, this may be one of the better ways to use the book: it is an excellent reference for near anything involving energy.
It is my hope that Maddison's book will contain such information as well. This summer's reading list in effect an attempt to create a very durable reference library. When used in concert these selections should allow a quick introduction to most anything concerning natural and civilizational dynamics. And for that which they cannot provide directly, their collective bibliography will point towards the places I can find what I need. After all, who needs to actually buy an antilibrary when you have one of Smil's bibliographies?