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Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us
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Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  163 ratings  ·  29 reviews
What you need to know now about America's energy future"Hi, I'm the United States and I'm an oil-oholic." We have an energy problem. And everybody knows it, even if we can't all agree on what, specifically, the problem is. Rising costs, changing climate, peaking oil, foreign oil, public safety--if the fears are this complicated, then the solutions are bound to be even more ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published February 21st 2012 by John Wiley & Sons
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I wanted to rate this book higher than two stars, because I like the author's writing style, humor, and intelligence, and because I share many of her assessments and goals, but I can't because it lives up neither to its own aspirations nor to what readers attracted to such a book need. "What you need to know about America's energy future" is its slogan. Well, unless what you need to know is that the future is inherently unknowable and is likely to be a messy mixture of old and new glued together
I heard about this book through, of which Maggie Koerth-Baker is a regular contributor. This work is her summation of the structure of the United States' energy production and distribution systems, and also her ideas about how we're going to have to adapt both in a hotter, more expensive, more populated word in the coming years.
I haven't taken a science or math class in 10+ years, but I found this book very easy and enjoyable to read. It's also short - I finished it in a few days
Worth reading for a more nuanced view of how the electrical grid is cobbled together, and the factors that complicate any major effort at improving or replacing it. I was particularly struck by the discussion of how the unpredictable nature of most renewables places a low ceiling (~25%) on the total percentage of power generation they can provide, at least without major changes in both grid decentralization and storage, neither of which are easy or cheap.

The writing works very hard to be broadly
A must-read for anyone who thinks they understand how energy is used in the US, or is interested in doing something about it.

Maggie presents a clear picture of the situation that we find ourselves in, and explains quite a few things about energy use, creation, distribution, and people's attitudes toward energy that not everyone understands.
DeAnna Knippling
A thin book that contains mind-changing information and a basis for discussion for energy policy in a non-partisan way.

--I generally try to critique books based on whether they achieved what they set out to achieve, and if I solely based it on that, it's be a five-star book. But. It seemed like the goal of this book was to present the complexity of the energy issue, and it did so in an overly simplistic manner. Maybe I just can't explain this properly. But if you want to present how overwhelming
I first became aware of this book when I saw author Maggie Koerth-Baker speak about the looming issues of our complicated, bloated, and inefficient power grid as part of the hilarious Theater of Public Policy improv at Huge Theater in Minneapolis. Koerth-Baker was an engaging speaker and really raised my awareness about energy issues. Granted, I had been interested in the environmental background of alternative energy, sustainability, “peak oil,” and all of those other green catchwords, but “Bef ...more
Derrick Schneider
While there's good information here, the writing style constantly disrupts the reading flow.

Metaphors that are either weak or stretched too thin for too long.

The author continually telling not showing ("... text ... This is important." Shouldn't the point be clear enough that you don't need to take special pains to point it out?).

Some descriptions that are overly detailed while others skip over probable lacunae in the reader's mind.

And a lot of the author talking about the experts rather tha
I read this book because I wanted to become smarter about where energy comes from and what our energy future might look like. I was familiar with and enjoyed Maggie Koerth-Baker's science writing at BoingBoing, so this book seemed like a great place to start. It is a very good primer on understanding the nuanced world of power generation and distribution. As a result of having read it, I am smarter about these things and feel that I can have an intelligent conversation about alternative energy's ...more
Science For The People
Featured on Skeptically Speaking show #160 on April 14, 2012, during an interview with author Maggie Koerth-Baker.

Featured on Skeptically Speaking show #193 on December 21, 2012, on our special Book Review episode. This book was reviewed by Jim Kakalios and the review can be heard starting at timestamp 00:30:19.
If you know little about energy and electricity, I would definitely read this book. If you have some experience in the energy field (as I do) you may find this a little basic, but still an informative and enjoyable read.
Andrew Ragland
Strongly recommended. Koerth-Baker puts into clear and lucid terms the challenges facing us, and avoids polemic and politics along the way. This is a factual book, not a diatribe. It discusses the situation, gives massive amounts of background and context, and analyzes the possible outcomes in a rational, scientific way. Do not expect this book to support your viewpoint, no matter what it may be. Expect this book to make you think about your views.

There were some interesting things in this book about the electric grid that I didn't know. Coolest idea: using electric cars's batteries (while the cars are parked and plugged in) to even out fluctuations in the grid caused by intermittent generation from wind and solar. Overall, glad to have read it, but the writing was too chatty for my taste. Apparently what I like in a blog post is not what I want in a full length book.
Ok...did not have as much actionable info as I had hoped & stresses large scale policy changes instead of what people can do on their own. I agree that if we are going to "fix" the problems we have as a whole we need to address them as a group but that's not going to stop me from taking steps to make sure my family is insulated from the negative effects of too many people wasting too much energy.
Koerth-Baker takes the complex, and sometimes confusing, topic of energy and makes it understandable. "Before the Lights Go Out" isn't about quick fixes,magic bullets, and personal piety of Prius drivers, it talks about the need to truly investigate all possible answers, from increasing energy efficiency of current technologies to developing better alternatives, and everything in between.
Tim Corrigan
I might just be the wrong audience here, but I found some of the points a little off technically... some of it I think coming from a mistake in emphasis that stems from not enough in depth knowledge about the problems. Actually, I was definitely the wrong audience. But I agree with the author in most points, I just don't feel like she sold it well.
Squandered its potential a bit. Maggie's smart and the book is passionate and well-researched, but her prose is conversational to a fault. The book spends about 75% of its pages in vague cheerleading and problem-defining mode before it gets to specific examples of people/companies trying to move towards the future with innovative ideas and tech.
Mike Smith
To all my friends who teach or promote conservation, I highly recommend taking time to read this book. It provides context to what we talk about, and a deeper understanding of the energy issues we face. It goes far beyond the binary "fossil fuel bad, renewable good" message and revels in the shades of gray inherent to the issue.
Bastian Greshake
Yes, it's US centric, but given the fact that the US is amongst the top energy-consumers & a top driver of climate change it's worth a read if you're interested in learning about todays challenges in (clean) energy. Plus most things (centralized production, grid structure etc.) work quite similar in Europe as well.
The author does a pretty good job of going through all of the issues affecting our energy consumption, but it's all written from the perspective of a layperson, which is good or bad depending on how familiar one is with the technologies and issues.

The usage of BTUs in the book was infuriating.
Excellent book for everyone who cares about the future of energy use. Diligently explains that there is no magic bullet to save us, but rather a combination of current and better technologies and infrastructure changes can revamp our energy use to build a sustainably powered future.
Scott Bischke
reality check
great writing
fun attitude
holistic look at the situation
marveling at issues engineers deal with daily

reality check
often simplistic
could have used more editing
needed tables and graphs
marveling at issues engineers deal with daily
A lot of research and examples were put into this book. Just felt it was a little too long to just be speaking about the US. Examples and comparisons to continents other than Europe would have been much more interesting.
An overview of the domestic energy production and distribution of the US, and a look at some of the solutions to the problem of climate change that are involving revamps of said energy distribution.
Worth a read. For as much as I love the idea of 100% clean energy, this book was a wake-up call for the size and type of investment that will be required to make that possible.
This book taught me stuff about energy that took the top of my head clean off. I found my way to Maggie Koerth-Baker from her writing at She's super.
Good information about an important topic, though the organization and presentation could have been a little more effective.
Nick B
Quick, easy read. Maggie provides practical ideas to a seemingly overwhelming issue.
Jun 26, 2012 Patrick is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Overview of the energy crisis in the U.S.
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