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No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies

(Carbon Ideologies #1)

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  145 ratings  ·  41 reviews
A timely, eye-opening book about climate change and energy generation that focuses on the consequences of nuclear power production, from award-winning author William T. Vollmann

In his nonfiction, William T. Vollmann has won acclaim as a singular voice tackling some of the most important issues of our age, from poverty to violence to the dark soul of American imperialism as
Hardcover, 624 pages
Published April 10th 2018 by Viking
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3.68  · 
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 ·  145 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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My comments on this book will be brief and incomplete - this is only part one of two.

Vollmann has written this for the "hot dark future". That is, he is working on the stated assumption that the problems of climate change and resource consumption are too vast and incomprehensible for us and our immediate descendants to properly address, and so further generations will be materially deprived as a result, living on a "hotter, more dangerous, biologically diminished planet than the one on which I
"Look at the brightside always and die in a dream!"
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Anima Poetae, 1804


I'm not sure what the 1/2 life of getting over this book is, but like all of Vollmann's nonfiction, it spins a massive data/narrative web that grows, and grows, and sticks. I absolutely agree with some of the previous reviews that some of Vollmann's data in this book might be flawed, but THAT is part of the point of this book. There is SO much data, so many ways to view risk, and it is so diffuse that
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Wherein WTV does a lot of math and science (cf. his Copernicus book). Not as compelling (so far, this is only half a book here) as his two non-fiction behemoths, Imperial and RURD. But what it does do, at a minimum, is showcase how difficult it is for even a well-educated, ferociously curious, moderately well=funded (average) citizen to grasp and gain some level of mastery over these issues without relying upon experts and their say (even picking out your own personal expert can of course be exa ...more
Christopher Leonard
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This incredible, important book is a bracing read like no other.
The book is framed as a long letter, written to future inhabitants of an over-heated Earth. "Carbon Ideologies" seeks to explain to future inhabitants of Earth why we, the people of today, persisted in emitting carbon into the atmosphere in spite of growing evidence that the practice threatens life as we know it. As always, Vollmann is breathtaking in the scope of his reporting. Deep history, scientific analysis and a penetrating l
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Everyone is encouraging that I power on through the next volume. There is some haunting journalism here. There's also a great deal of scattered analysis and attendant hand wringing.

My wife bought me both volumes for my birthday and they arrived while I was till on my sojourn at the resort. She read 100 pages and we discussed such yesterday. the helplessness of everyone. People acting in good faith. How Vollmann hectors people, particularly the 25 year old and asks why since she's Japanese she's
Maru Kun
"...All too often...generalists who could look at overarching meanings and patterns (and therefore most thoughtfully consider where we are going and why) lacked proficiency in maths and science. Meanwhile, some of the scientists and mathematicians I met were naive, or worse yet, indifferent, concerning our where and why. Carbon Ideologies strives, however unsuccessfully, to bridge the gap...".

This is the first volume of a very admirable attempt by Vollmann to comprehensively understand the issue
James Spencer
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
I love Vollmann's writing, particularly the novels but also Rising Up and Rising Down, so I was disappointed in this, the first volume of a two volume work on the damage we are doing to our world with our energy production. The first 200 pages here, a "Primer" on the different energy schemes, was excellent, vintage Vollmann. But the rest of this volume, on nuclear, is primarily a 300 page description of Vollmann wandering around the area of the Fukushima disaster evacuation zones alone with occa ...more
Ian Scuffling
Fuller review to come—I'll say this 'til then: I think Vollmann failed at writing a book that is essential for this moment in time. It was a herculean task, especially for a person who is not a radiation/nuclear expert, but perhaps that's why someone else should have written it. His monomaniacal focus on measuring areas turns into a repetitious experience that just circles the drain for the last 200+ pages of this book without much expanding upon what's at stake despite a few interjections of pi ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Jun 24, 2018 marked it as to-read
No Scientific Method
Alexander Weber
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am only just finished the Primer section, so I will update this later.
But importantly,
I can say that the primer section on its own is about 4.5/5. I really love this. But I think it will rub some people the wrong way.
Take for instance this review, which I think is an excellent read.
Will Boisvert brings up the embrrassing mistake Vollmann makes on page 48, "Vollmann claims that “in each two days of 2009, the world burned the entire oil output of 1990,” which is wrong by 289 days."
Will then go
Chris Via
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
There were several times when the monotony of his interviews set my mind adrift, but overall this is a book worthy of our attention. Who else but WTV, at this time in our history of letters, is equipped to take on such a contentious and, more often than not, ambiguous topic: carbon. More specifically, the dangers of converting carbon, from coal, oil, natural gas, etc. This first volume of his two-part Carbon Ideologies is split into three parts: (1) a 200-page primer that covers everything you c ...more
Gilda Felt
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a real slog of a read. There is so much information, perhaps too much, given to back up the author’s claims of the futility in trying to ‘fix’ climate change. Perhaps my mistake was in trying to read the “primer,” the first 200 pages or so of the book. I found myself skimming through a great deal of it, and wondering if anyone who wasn’t already practically convinced of his position even bother (the author, himself, writes that a reader may what to do just, that, skipping the primer.)

Griffin Alexander
Jun 24, 2018 added it
Shelves: bill
A bit of a slog at times, withholding a real write up til I finish volume II.
Randall Wallace
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
A desktop computer in 2010 required up to 660 pounds of coal for its manufacture; a refrigerator can require 1,000 and 1,400 pounds of coal. “In 2013, rice farming caused 50% of Japan’s methane emissions.” Both ends of a cow conjure up “2 liters of methane per minute”. Per capita U.S. annual soft drink consumption in 1990 was 47.5 gallons. An inconvenient truth: “Nuclear power plants need electrical power 24 hours per day, even when the nuclear reactors are shut down, to run equipment that cools ...more
Vollmann’s comprehensive account of everything humanity has done wrong may be difficult to read and comprehend, but it is vital. Those of the “hot dark future” and we in the present must read it for the same reason: to understand humanity’s present and past actions and — as Vollmann classifies our beliefs, equivocations, lies, truths, and motives — our “ideologies.”

I am not asking each and every person to finish the book, inspecting, reflecting, and absorbing the information from cover to cover
Apr 26, 2018 marked it as to-read
Note to the Reader
List of Maps and Illustrations

--Carbon Ideologies Volume I: No Immediate Danger

Definitions, Units and Conversions:
Table 1: Commonly Mentioned Radiocontaminants in Fukushima
Table 2: Other Isotopes of Interest
Radioactivity of Selected Library Interiors, 2014-15
Dosimeter and Frisker Readings at Various Dental X-Ray Settings, 2015
Multiples of Outdoor Background Level at Dentist's Office, 2015
Carbon Dioxide Emissions of Various Fuels When Producing 2013 American Winter Peak Electric
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A prospective reviewer cannot engage William Vollmann's NO IMMEDIATE DANGER without laying out the fact that it constitutes but half of a larger work the publication date of the remainder of which lies on the horizon slightly ahead of us (but only June, kids, only June). To be continued, as it were. We can attribute these two volumes to the characteristic inability of Mr. Vollmann, despite promises to his publisher, to reign in his word counts. As always, we should be grateful for the failure of ...more
Though I read a good portion of this, the subject matter is something so strongly connected with my day-to-day anxiety, that I felt it was not so prudent to continue. So, I'll leave a few notes and no rating.

Vollmann is riveting, as always, and his fears align closely with mine; except that, as a Christian who has hope of an ultimate plan, I diverge from him in some of my basic assumptions. My personal problem is that I have to continually *focus* on these assumptions to keep from losing my head
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
A quite fascinating citizen journalist type of book by William T. Vollmann where he spends time in Japan after the Fukushima disaster and explores the area and interviews locals while toting a dosimeter and a pancake frisker. I downloaded the 100 page notes and those were quite helpful as this was a bit wonky in the nuclear discussion sometimes and audio is not the easiest to keep up with in those cases.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
To read this book and its companion Volume Two is signing up for a long haul, but for me, it was a long haul worth taking. These books are one man's in-depth examination of the impact of energy on humans, with scientific data, charts and tables, accompanied by personal stories of his own and others' reactions to how energy development and use impacts our environment and our lives. In Volume One in particular I found his tales sometimes ran a bit too long with details, but overall, the stories pa ...more
Christopher Condit
Jun 02, 2018 rated it liked it
I can't in all honesty recommend this book to anyone, big a Vollmann fan as I am. It is at least twice, if not three times as long as it need be, and that's not accounting for the second volume. Way too many radiation readings. Try as he might, he didn't overcome the basic problem of mismatched units across different measurements.

Still kind of fascinating, and it would be vitally important if there was any action called for, but seems completely hopeless (global warming and fuel use+waste).

Scott Lupo
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A devastating read. The first part of the book (200 pages) is a primer detailing by way of numbers, graphs, and calculations the effects of fossil fuels on the environment. The whole book is written like a letter to future generations with sarcasm and humor. Even the title is snark, taken from the mantra of the Japanese government after their nuclear disaster. After the primer, the rest of the book is about nuclear power, particularly in Japan right after their disaster. Much of this part of the ...more
Fred Rose
Dec 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: global-issues
Needs a very strong editor. Way too long for the content. Could only skim it.
Barnabé Monnot
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
There is a lot going on in this book, and it is my first William T. Vollmann novel as well as a partial read since I have not yet started Volume 2. I have also read much critics ("some of the maths are wrong, the anti-nuclear position is dangerous, who cares about alpha and beta waves anyway?") and to be quite honest, I tend to agree with most of them.

All of which does not explain why I actually enjoyed the book, or why I am reviewing it now—the answer to the latter may simply be that I enjoyed
Heidi Thorsen
Oct 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This was an easier read than it appears to be. I did go ahead and read the “extra” parts the author encourages you to skip if you don’t have time. I finished this volume in the 3 weeks allotted by my library (just barely!) so I had the time.

I’m not alarmed by global warming, I presume everything will work itself out if the earth gets hotter or not. I am not as alarmed by a drastic reduction in human population as my husband thinks I ought to be, I see it as part of the natural progression of lif
Lee Barry
Apr 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, _partial
Quite a large book and a bit boring in parts, but thorough in its approach on the effects of the use of fossil fuels on climate systems.

The chapter, “When the Wind Blows From the South” about the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami is particularly compelling and poignant. This would be the scenario if an earthquake and tsunami struck the Pacific Northwest. I'm not sure how this fits in with the main theme but is an absorbing read, reminding me a bit of John McFee.

Interesting excerpts:

"From a biology
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In a just world, William T. Vollmann would be more popular than Steven Pinker and the entire editorial board of the NY Times combined. Vollmann's ambition (there's a 200 pp. scientific introduction at the start and 80 pp. of scientific terms at the end of this book, along with taking radioactivity measurements worldwide for years), humility (he ensures that he reviews his scientific proclamations with experts), and decency (he refuses to wear protective equipment if his colleagues are not, along ...more
Apr 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
This is aggressively bad. It swings rapidly from the maudlin to the downright tedious. There is a seemingly endless parade of figures and statistics pulled at random and without any context, wildly gestured at as if it is all supposed to mean something, by an author who doesn't appear to entirely understand what he's reading and quoting from.

If the whole point was to convey the difficulty non-experts have in grasping the vastness of the problem and the complex interdependencies of the modern wor
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
We are, more or less, doomed. Or, then again, we here now are not necessarily doomed, but those who follow, thanks to us, surely are. Of course this book is only the first half of a two-part exploration. As is Vollmann's wont, it is awfully wordy, with perhaps too damn many numbers buzzing around to focus on even half of them. On the other hand, this perplexing confusion of numbers is part of Vollmann's point. It's so hard to see and understand what we're doing to the world that we keep right on ...more
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Vollman addresses an apology to people of the future. "What was the work for?" he asks. Then he tours abandoned villages in Japan with a dosimeter and pancake frisker to measure radioactivity from the Fukushima disaster. Official claims of "no immediate danger" and cultural aversion to "harmful rumors" sow confusion about real and imaginary hazards. Next on the list, Carbon Ideologies V. II: No Good Alternative.
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William Tanner Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.

Other books in the series

Carbon Ideologies (2 books)
  • No Good Alternative: Volume Two of Carbon Ideologies: 2
“We all lived for money, and that is what we died for.” 7 likes
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