Synopses & Reviews
Few today realize that electric cabs dominated Manhattan's streets in the 1890s; that Boise, Idaho, had a geothermal heating system in 1910; or that the first megawatt turbine in the world was built in 1941 by the son of publishing magnate G. P. Putnam--a feat that would not be duplicated for another forty years. Likewise, while many remember the oil embargo of the 1970s, few are aware that it led to a corresponding explosion in green-technology research that was only derailed when energy prices later dropped.
In other words: We've been here before. Although we may have failed, America has had the chance to put our world on a more sustainable path. Americans have, in fact, been inventing green for more than a century.
Half compendium of lost opportunities, half hopeful look toward the future, Powering the Dream tells the stories of the brilliant, often irascible inventors who foresaw our current problems, tried to invent cheap and energy renewable solutions, and drew the blueprint for a green future.
andldquo;Eye-opening micro-histories about American energy past, with an eye to the future...A well-told cautionary tale about the need for widespread renewable-energy production.andrdquo;Conservation, March 2011
andldquo;Itandrsquo;s refreshing to read a history book whose intent is to improve decisions in the present and near futureandhellip;[An] able account of the very checkered history of green energy schemes in Americaandhellip;Madrigal has the best critique Iandrsquo;ve seen of the andlsquo;appropriate technologyandrsquo; philosophy promoted by my Whole Earth Catalog in the 1970sandhellip;[An] admirable book.andrdquo;and#160;Booklist, 4/1/11
andldquo;Madrigal rises above politics to review the surprisingly long and fruitful history of renewable energy in the U.Sandhellip;.He shows beyond a doubt that the past will lead the way to a greener future.andrdquo;and#160;Library Journal, 3/15/11
andldquo;Part history of Americaandrsquo;s use of green technologies, part history of our relationship with that technology, and part hope for the futureandhellip;On all these counts, the book is successfulandhellip;Recommended for general readers with an interest in Americaandrsquo;s past, present, and future relationship with green technology.andrdquo;
Bookforum, April/May 2011andldquo;Madrigal managesandmdash;without any gonzo shenanigansandmdash;to engage and sometimes even electrify the reader with lean and jaunty prose, skillful storytelling, analytic theorizing, and a proficiency in factual gee-whizzeryandhellip;He makes the dream of a perfect power source seem all the more urgent, nowthat we know for how long, and in how many past episodes, itandrsquo;s been deferred.andrdquo;
and#160;Grist.org, 3/28/11andldquo;[An] absorbing, often astonishing new bookandhellip;Rather than rehash well-understood problems or relitigate well-entrenched debates, Madrigal tells stories, unlikely, idiosyncratic stories, about real human beingsandhellip;The book yields a continual sense of discovery, sometimes delight. Madrigal has produced a kind of anti-history: a chronicle of paths not taken, failed visionaries and cranks, near-misses and fiascos. Along the way there are lessons learned, but no Grand Theories or first principles. With epistemic humility that's rare in the green space, Madrigal picks through these events for observations about what seems to work and how we might avoid our past mistakes.andrdquo;and#160;Mother Jones (website), 3/29/11andldquo;[Madrigal is] a master at autopsies of promising yet deceased technologies.andrdquo;and#160;Time.com, 4/6/11andldquo;[An] excellent new book...Madrigal shows that American policy toward green energy has been a mess, long before this new batch of Republicans went into Congress fixed on dismantling environmental protections.andrdquo;and#160;New York Journal of Books, April 2011andldquo;In a world reeling from the news of the nuclear plant failures at Fukushima, no book could be more timely than Alexis Madrigalandrsquo;s Powering the Dream. Headlines filled with nuclear disaster and soaring oil prices have reignited the energy debate while news stories about alternative energy focus almost exclusively on the sexiest new technology. Whatandrsquo;s lacking is contextual background and perspective. Powering the Dream provides thatandhellip;This book is far from a dull scientific read. Mr. Madrigal is a storyteller. He seems naturally drawn to the drama of success and failure and the fascinating eccentrics and visionaries that taken part in the battle of energy technologiesandhellip;Those who are concerned about the future of energy and the environment will find Powering the Dream a very informative and useful resource.andrdquo;
and#160;Outside, May 2011andldquo;Better batteries won't be enough to charge the future, argues Alexis Madrigal in the beautifully wrought Powering the Dream. With an eye to misfires in America's pastandhellip;he astutely points to what it might take: technocrats wise enough to see that we need to reinvent not just our technology but our relationship with it.andquot;and#160;OnEarth.org, 4/15/11andldquo;[This book] may jolt many environmentalistsandhellip;Madrigalandrsquo;s survey of our past failures to get renewable energy off the ground is endlessly provocative.andrdquo;and#160;TheAtlantic.com, 4/11/11andldquo;Madrigal's tour of the forgotten history of green technology is more than just an entertaining jaunt back through timeandhellip;The history he documents is instructive to our current energy policy debate.andrdquo;and#160;InfoDad.com, 4/14/11
andldquo;Madrigal seems to understand better than most writers on this topic that capitalism itself can be the great growth engine producing better and greener technologyandhellip;Madrigalandrsquo;s willingness to consider the many green-tech attempts of the past, most of them failed but so many of them fascinating, is a refreshing change from the doomsday scenarios so common in alternative-energy writingandhellip;His belief that solutions can be found, and that the past may hold the key to coming up with a better future, is salutary and most welcome.andrdquo;
and#160;PopMatters.com, 4/20/11andldquo;Personable and engagingandhellip;Refreshingly, itandrsquo;s not a depressing, weandrsquo;ve completely screwed up the planet kind of book. Thereandrsquo;s an optimism that shines through...In the end, Madrigal writes a book that works on many levels. While not particularly scholarly, his simple statementsandhellip;do ask audiences to think critically, his chapter openings are catchy, and his optimism gives readers hope that itandrsquo;s not too late to find greener technologies.andrdquo;
Internet Review of Books, 4/22/11andldquo;A wonderfully interesting book, and while it may be in parts a cautionary tale about unintended consequences, it is also a valuable history lesson. And the depth of research is astounding, especially as the author connects information to illustrate how nearly all-things-energy came to beandhellip;While addressing readers in every-day language, Madrigral's index and bibliography (each with more than twenty pages of listings) provides evidence of the breadth of his scholarly research and the validity of his historical referencesandhellip;Madrigal also does an excellent job in outlining the characters behind technical innovationandhellip;To finish Powering the Dream is to find oneself optimistic, pessimistic, a bit cynical, and nursing a small flame of hope that the same hubris, ambition, and the desire to live a better life for ourselves and our children that got us into this mess will get us out.andrdquo;
St. Petersburg Times, 4/17/11andldquo;Madrigal records a century and a half of American energy innovationandmdash;such as electric taxicabs in 1900andmdash;and imagines the future.andrdquo;
January, 4/20/11andldquo;Madrigal skillfully uses stories from the past to illustrate both the follies and successes of the present. In doing so, he places some of the environmental madness weandrsquo;re experiencing now in perspective.andrdquo;
and#160;Hudson Valley News, 4/20/11
andldquo;Inspiringandhellip;The first book to explore both the forgotten history and the visionary future of Americaandrsquo;s green-tech innovators.andrdquo;
and#160;Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/1/11andldquo;Well-thought-out ideas about how to advance low-cost green technology.andrdquo;
and#160;Print, 5/10/11andldquo;A quiet page-turner that anyone concerned with our future energy policyandmdash;or lack thereofandmdash;should readandhellip;Madrigal is a talented wordsmith and astute researcher with an eye for ferreting out the andlsquo;need-to-knowandrsquo; minutia in a complicated world of energy giants, green pioneers and international trading markets.andrdquo;and#160;Blog Business World, 5/8/11
andldquo;[An] eye opening and very engaging bookandhellip;A celebration of the spirit of innovation and its many successes and failuresandhellip;Well researchedandhellip;Fascinating and thought provokingandhellip;This book will change the way you think about green technology, and its past, present, and future.andrdquo;
Ode, June 2011andldquo;Quirky stories about individuals whose past inventions, often failures, anticipated many contemporary environmental solutions.andrdquo;and#160;Reference and Research Book News, June 2011andldquo;This history of green energy in America showcases the grand experiments, both successful and failed, that have broadened our cultural relationship with sustainable power over the past century.andrdquo;
andldquo;Politics and Patriotism,andrdquo; Stitcher Smart Radio Network, 3/20/13
andldquo;A slice of history that we donandrsquo;t know as well as we should, combined with an intellectual argument for a new push to improve alternative energy systemsandhellip;Powering the Dream is educational in ways that may surprise you.and#160; Itandrsquo;s a good conversation starter.andrdquo; and#160;and#160;
Phi Beta Kappaandrsquo;s Key Reporter, 5/24/13andldquo;Presents the history, not often told, of the failures as well as some successes of past ventures into solar and wind energyandhellip; Madrigal opens a window into the past that will be equally appealing to historians and to all those concerned with technology and how it affects our environment.andrdquo;
From award-winning technology writer Alexis Madrigal, the first book to explore both the forgotten history and the visionary future of America's green-tech innovation.
and#147;Eye-opening micro-histories about Americaand#8217;s energy past, with an eye to the future.and#133;A well-told cautionary tale about the need for widespread renewable energy production.and#8221;--Kirkus Reviews
Few today realize that Americaand#8217;s relationship with green technology is far from a recent development. The truth is Americans have been inventing green for more than a century. Powering the Dream tells the fascinating stories of the brilliant, often irascible inventors who foresaw our current energy problems, tried to invent cheap and renewable solutions, and drew the blueprint for a green future.
About the Author
Alexis Madrigal is senior editor and lead technology writer for TheAtlantic.com and an award-winning former staff writer for Wired.com. He is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and a regular guest on NPR. He lives in Washington, D.C