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The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  107 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
By the winner of the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award
Ancient civilizations relied on shackled human muscle. It took the energy of slaves to plant crops, clothe emperors, and build cities. Nineteenth-century slaveholders viewed critics as hostilely as oil companies and governments now regard environmentalists. Yet the abolition movement had an invisible ally: coal and
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ebook, 296 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Greystone Books
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H Wesselius
Apr 02, 2013 H Wesselius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Initially, the Energy of Slaves comes across as a metaphor but it develops beyond that. Nikiforuk demonstrates the primacy of energy as the origins and basis of a civilization. In the same way, civilizations depended on slaves, animals, etc for energy we have now come to depend on fossil fuels. And in a similar way, our civilization has inherited similar problems -- lacking innovation, dependency on elites, etc. However, in comparison, fossils fuels exaggerate every effect slavery had to the poi ...more
Sally
This polemic argues that our dependence on inanimate technological "slaves" powered by fossil fuels is equivalent to humanity's former, almost universal dependence on slave labor and just as distorting to society. Just as past elites got their wealth and leisure by appropriating the productivity of animals and poor and captive humans, so ever greater proportions of humanity use petro-energy to raise their standard of living with devices that are like having tens or hundreds of slaves, not to men ...more
Eric
Apr 18, 2015 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment
This book, along with The Long Descent which I also read recently, have really got my brain whirling as I think about a future with much less energy per capita. Neither book puts firm dates on when changes are coming, but both are confidant that a world with limited oil is coming and is going to make life a lot simpler and less comfortable. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in oil and the future.
Mark
Feb 01, 2016 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Andrew Nikiforuk writes about a subject that is about as complicated as his last name, but pulls it off in a manner that is neither preachy nor dreamy. The Energy of Slaves puts forth the argument that our dependency on oil is parallel to our previous dependency upon slaves. In fact, Nikiforuk goes further than simply making an analogy, the book provides quotes and political leanings of slavery times, pulling from history those short-sighted statements made then about slaves and now about oil.

Pu
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Alexis
Apr 08, 2013 Alexis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
A great book by a renowned journalist. Excellent research and a compelling argument about how modern society is enslaved by oil. The argument is new and interesting and you're sure to learn some facts as a result of reading this dense book.
Kristin
Sep 19, 2016 Kristin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reimagining the harnessed power of fossil fuel energy as a multitude of "energy slaves" creates a compelling metaphor. It helped me to grapple with the sheer immensity of our global reliance on cheap oil, as well as forcing me to recognize my own (undeserved) membership in an elite class of energy "slaveholders". The term "energy slaves" was first coined in the 1940s to demonstrate our energy dependency by converting it into the equivalent of human slaves. American households use the power of se ...more
John C.
The Energy of Slaves - Oil and the New Servitude 2012
By Andrew Nikiforuk (Canadian) – Non-Fiction

‘Earth’s new Master is an urban beast and its slaves are the world’s resources.’ Andrew Nikiforuk
We are brought along into facts, figures & unconventional ways of looking at how the egress of oil has forever altered humanity’s path.
For example; how could we maintain today’s standard of living without use of our precious utility of oil and its easily harnessed horsepower?
Up until a few centuri
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Vern Harrison
Very thought provoking. The rise of population coupled with energy consumption, as well as what lies ahead. The lat chapter about Japan I think is a preview. For society. I can't help but wider we do not put more focus on renewables given the EROI. Some alternatives are in fact compelling. Not the first book to introduce done of these ideas. I think "your world is about to become smaller" presents many similar ideas.
Lo
Jul 22, 2016 Lo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eco-justice
Solid and compelling read that introduced me to a way of looking at energy use. It strays very far from the central theme at times, especially when expounding on the history of fossil fuel use (which is 101 or 102 material, IMO, and seemed to be largely filler given what the thrust of this book is supposed to be). In this way I'd say that the author over-argues his point in some of the middle chapters, where there's practically no talk of the "slavery" aspect and is all about the "energy" aspect ...more
Andrew Reeves
May 20, 2016 Andrew Reeves rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read it while I was tracking my CO2 emissions and it changed how I thought about harnessing fossil fuels in my every day life. An interesting take on the use of fossil energy as the new slavery and the people to abuse this power as slave masters.
Patrick Khosravani
There is no other book to my knowledge that explains the foundations of modern civilization and it's fragility than this one.
William A Bigelow
Who's the Slave

Nikiforuk's book reminds us of the troubles of slave owners, which we all have in a sense become. His is a compelling description of our predicament, with some subtle hints of what to do. It is a well written and well documented book.
Mike
Dec 11, 2012 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good read, but not a great read. Nikiforuk makes an interesting point, but I'm not sure that he leaves the reader with a conclusive summation of the problem we face. In several chapters there's a tendency to wander too much through the historical writings of others as evidence of past thinking on the topic of cheap energy consumption. I would have preferred more time spent on the type of case study he provides on Japan in the final chapter and how the demise of cheap energy will impac ...more
Josh
Aug 12, 2015 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book could change your life
Alex Ryan
Jul 03, 2015 Alex Ryan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oil
Didn't enjoy the premis, too philosophical
Annaj
Jun 29, 2014 Annaj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's pretty end-of-days kind of stuff, very depressing when you try and read it in 3 days.
Will
Feb 03, 2013 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting but not entirely persuasive twist on the conventional wisdom about oil. This is a quick and easy historical look at past energy sources, although the author too heavily relies on the excellent work of one Vaclav Smil.

Jeff Rubin does a better job of underlining the necessity and infiltration of oil in the modern economy, while Vaclav Smil's books deserve to be read in the original.

Not bad, but not worth thirty dollars.
Charles
Mar 24, 2013 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: energy-lens
Just starting the book ... Slaves are not an energy source; they can be divided into energy accumulators and servants... They transform energy into work, and represent a certain amount of embodied energy -- and the social issues raised by slavery are a type of friction in the transformation of energy. I'm hoping to find a bridge in this book to the kind of historical investigations provided by Debt: The First 5,000 years.
Luise
extremely well researched & argued, but densely written (too much so for wider audience?), slavery metaphor not always convincing; oddly absent: contemporary outsourcing of de facto slavery to Chinese & third world factories.
Nikiforuk's presentation at Starfest was excellent - more optimistic than the book.
Bharat
Nov 13, 2012 Bharat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nikiforuk's frame of linking fossil fuel use and servitude is excellent and bears repeating. It is is not sufficient for an entire book, though, so I I skimmed through most of it after the first chapter or two.
Crystal Kobe
Oct 30, 2013 Crystal Kobe rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bc-bookclub
Couldn't do it...... Just finished a textbook like book. Bad timing I suppose, but I won't be reading this one
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Andrew Nikiforuk is a leading investigative journalist who has written about education, economics, and the environment for the past two decades. His work has appeared in a variety of Canadian publications including The Walrus, Maclean's, Canadian Business, Report on Business, Chatelaine, Georgia Straight, Equinox and Harrowsmith.

He is the author of the critically acclaimed Empire of the Beetle and
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