Energy systems have shaped modern civilization. From coal’s role in the industrial revolution to gasoline-powered vehicles, energy sources have shaped economies and created cultures. While most people take energy for granted—we drive our cars, crank our heaters and go about our day—these powerful resources have a complex and fascinating history.
Literature on energy topics have been around for a while, but due to the recent crisis regarding global environmental conditions, it’s is a genre on the rise. Perhaps you imagine a dry non-fiction about climate change. While there are certainly plenty of those on the shelves, imagine, instead, civilizations on distant planets fighting over resources, like in Dune by Frank Herbert. Or scandals involving the millionaire oil tycoon in Oil! by Upton Sinclair (the movie There Will Be Blood is loosely based on this novel). Go back to France in the early 1800s and get sucked into the daily horrors that miners face in Germinal by Emile Zola. Or, take a trip through the post-apocalyptic landscape that the last remaining humans face in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Topics in energy literature are exciting, terrifying, and eye-opening.
Books about energy stretch our imaginations. Yet they also provide reminders of these great forces that have shaped the lives before us, and ours today. Take Abdelrahman Munif’s Cities of Salt, one of the most important novels of the twentieth century about the discovery of oil in the Arabian desert. The novel reveals the disruption of the bedoin lifestyle as the extraction of oil became an unbeatable force in the desert.
Energy topics allow you sympathize with another way of life or to stretch your mind through a futuristic tale that captures a community’s journey of restoring normalcy after electricity is permanently destroyed in World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler.
If after all of those exciting novels you’re craving a little climate change nonfiction, check out the essay “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” by Will Steffen, Paul Crutzen and John McNeil. It is not exactly uplifting but an interesting account of how humans went from being hunter-gatherers to a geologic force upon the earth. For further intellectual stimulation, see Michael Ziser’s Environmental Practice and Early American Literature, which examines literary history through its environmental context.