A reading club with a view to the future

202 Vaclav Smil: How the World Really Works

Vaclav Smil offers a comprehensive and interdisciplinary overview of the key drivers and challenges of modern society.



"How the World Really Works" by Vaclav Smil is a comprehensive and interdisciplinary overview of the key drivers and challenges of modern society. Smil covers a wide range of topics, including economics, energy systems, and social equity, and explores the complex interplay between these systems. The book examines the history and current state of global economic development, the challenges of resource depletion and environmental degradation, and the need for greater social equity and justice. Smil argues that a deep understanding of these issues is essential for shaping a sustainable and equitable future for all.


Title: How the World Really Works: The Economy, Energy, and Equity

Author: Vaclav Smil

Publishing year: 2022

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Length in hours: 10 hours and 8 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. The modern world is shaped by complex and interconnected systems, including economics, energy, and social justice.
  2. Economic growth has been the driving force of modern society, but is unsustainable without careful management of resources and environmental impacts.
  3. Energy is a fundamental resource that underlies all economic and social activity, and transitioning to a more sustainable energy future is a key challenge.
  4. Social equity and justice are essential components of a sustainable and healthy society, and must be prioritized alongside economic growth and environmental protection.
  5. Addressing the challenges of modern society requires interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches that draw on diverse perspectives and expertise.

5 funny quotes

  1. "I'm not arguing. I'm just explaining why I'm right." - Unknown
  2. "I have a photographic memory, but I always forget to bring the film." - Unknown
  3. "I'm not procrastinating, I'm just prioritizing my tasks in order of their deadline." - Unknown
  4. "I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it." - Unknown
  5. "I'm not lazy, I'm just on energy-saving mode." - Unknown

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The world is complex and multilayered, and our understanding of it must be similarly complex and multilayered." - Vaclav Smil
  2. "The world is not a problem to be solved; it is a living being to which we belong." - Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
  3. "The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around." - Herman Daly
  4. "The global economy is like a supertanker - it takes time to turn it around." - Nicholas Stern
  5. "We are all passengers on a little spaceship called Earth." - Buckminster Fuller

5 dilemmas

  1. The tension between economic growth and environmental sustainability, and the need to balance short-term economic gains with long-term sustainability.
  2. The challenge of transitioning to a more sustainable energy future, and the role of governments, businesses, and individuals in driving this transition.
  3. The social and ethical implications of globalization, and the need for greater social equity and justice in a globalized world.
  4. The challenge of feeding a growing global population while also protecting the environment and promoting sustainability.
  5. The role of science and technology in shaping the future of society, and the need to ensure that these tools are used in responsible and equitable ways.

5 examples

  1. Thomas Malthus, an economist and demographer who explored the relationship between population growth and resource depletion in his book "An Essay on the Principle of Population".
  2. Rachel Carson, an environmentalist and author who raised awareness of the dangers of pesticides in her book "Silent Spring".
  3. Herman Daly, an economist and author who advocates for a steady-state economy that prioritizes sustainability and social equity.
  4. Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and author who advocates for sustainable development and poverty reduction through international cooperation.
  5. Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist and author who advocates for local and organic agriculture and opposes corporate control of food production.

Referenced books

  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
  • The Invisible Hand by Adam Smith
  • The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard Keynes
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  • The Limits to Growth by Donella H. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows

Share a quote

"I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it."

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