Numbers Don't Lie
71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World
"Vaclav Smil is my favorite author… Numbers Don't Lie takes everything that makes his writing great and boils it down into an easy-to-read format. I unabashedly recommend this book to anyone who loves learning."--Bill Gates, GatesNotes
From the author of How the World Really Works, an essential guide to understanding how numbers reveal the true state of our world--exploring a wide range of topics including energy, the environment, technology, transportation, and food production.
Vaclav Smil's mission is to make facts matter. An environmental scientist, policy analyst, and a hugely prolific author, he is Bill Gates' go-to guy for making sense of our world. In Numbers Don't Lie, Smil answers questions such as: What's worse for the environment--your car or your phone? How much do the world's cows weigh (and what does it matter)? And what makes people happy?
From data about our societies and populations, through measures of the fuels and foods that energize them, to the impact of transportation and inventions of our modern world--and how all of this affects the planet itself--in Numbers Don't Lie, Vaclav Smil takes us on a fact-finding adventure, using surprising statistics and illuminating graphs to challenge conventional thinking. Packed with fascinating information and memorable examples, Numbers Don't Lie reveals how the US is leading a rising worldwide trend in chicken consumption, that vaccination yields the best return on investment, and why electric cars aren't as great as we think (yet). Urgent and essential, with a mix of science, history, and wit--all in bite-sized chapters on a broad range of topics--Numbers Don't Lie inspires readers to interrogate what they take to be true.
Smil (Growth), a professor emeritus in the faculty of environment at the University of Manitoba, sets out to explore "what is really going on in our world" in this episodic and inconclusive essay collection. Smil covers such topics as infant mortality, global food waste, and transportation efficiency, and presents a robust array of data, at times with devastating acuity. In his chapter on American exceptionalism, for example, he writes that the infant mortality rate is higher and high school education rates are lower in the U.S. than in other affluent countries, and concludes that "politicians may look far and wide for evidence of American exceptionalism, but they won't find it in the numbers, where it matters." Another essay presents a statistic indicating that "for every dollar invested in vaccination, $16 is expected to be saved in healthcare costs," and the author elsewhere considers the amount of energy a smartphone uses per year and wonders whether the devices are worse for the environment than cars. Here, as in other pieces, Smil frustratingly fails to answer the questions he poses. While he provides no shortage of eye-opening facts, he too often stops short of doing much more than presenting his data. Readers will find far more information than insight.