Books

In this issues round up of books we've looked at everything from energy production to wireless technology, now pass me that egg whisk, I'm out of here.

Energise - A future for energy innovation

By James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky
Beautiful Books, out now, £12.99

Sceptical that switching off your PC at night will help cut carbon emissions, despite government rhetoric? Baffled by environmentalists' passion for installing small wind turbines onto roofs simply to save a few watts?

Incensed by the belief that climate change is mankind's greatest threat when, given half the chance, engineers and scientists could innovate us out of our predicament? If so, then read this book.

From the outset, authors James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky make crystal clear that 'Energ!se' does not conform to the general consensus on how to tackle global warming. Describing the book as a 'riposte to the endless doctrine that you are personally responsible for climate change', they argue we still have time to fix global warming without downgrading our lifestyles. How? By building a bigger, better and cleaner energy supply.

And big is the key. Staunch promoters of innovation and industrialisation, their vision of tomorrow's energy supply is ambitious, bold and breathtaking.

Nuclear power and clean coal will form the initial building blocks. Looking east, the authors' describe the rapid build of new nuclear plant in Asia as "vibrant" and claim China's eager adoption of clean coal technology is "setting an example to the world".

They also advocate renewable generation, but on unprecedented scales. They argue that wind, solar, water and geothermal sources could generate enormous supplies of energy, but require investment.

They assert that the wind industry urgently needs more advanced factories to build more and bigger turbines. Many more grid connections are required to carry wind-generated electricity to 'the skyscrapers and industries'. And, of course, a new influx of megawatt-generating wind technologies need more cash.

Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky not only support hydroelectric power on the scale of the 2GW Hoover and 14GW Itaipu dams, but encourage the ambitious goal of hooking it up to a centralised supply. And they are adamant geothermal engineering has great potential.

Likewise, tidal generation gets the thumbs up, although wave power is swept aside as "there's just not enough usable energy in the waves for them to make a big difference".

Clearly for the authors, scale is paramount. Indeed, relatively reserved carbon-cutting measures, such as energy efficiency and domestic generation, are ridiculed.

Energy conservation, for example, is caricatured by a photograph of President Jimmy Carter sporting a woolly sweater as part of his 1970s drive to get US citizens to save energy in the home. Another photograph, captioned 'Putting their back into it', shows so-called hippies erecting a solar panel onto a timber house in Cornwall.

So why the preoccupation with size? Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky argue that to tackle climate change and to bring real gains for humanity, "the action must be around a bigger and better energy supply, not around imposing parsimony on the individual consumer".

The themes of misguided frugality and state interference emerge again and again.

According to the authors, the prime culprits, environmentalists, have spent decades attacking individuals for consuming energy while simultaneously smothering energy innovation. Why, they ask, do 'greens' favour personal conservation over industrial innovation? It's cheaper, is thought to bring immediate gains and allows them to be sanctimonious over other people's behaviour, rather than take action.

The entire West, they say, lacks the confidence to make any serious investment in energy innovation. What's more, governments choose to avoid risk and stick to deluded, irrational policies such as energy conservation. And the authors believe the repercussions from individual consumer guilt to entire industry vilification are felt throughout the entire energy industry.

For example, if you've taken the time to count your carbon footprint and felt slight remorse over taking your kids to Disney World, don't. According to the authors, the "carbon footprint blame game" is actually a green "bootprint" on your brain and a "ghastly entry in the green accountant's ledger book of past crimes". As they say, "it strips each individual and social activity of its merits, dissolving all goals into one: add up your carbon impact and reduce it".

On the decline of the "vilified" nuclear generation industry, the authors point to inaccurate environmentalist reporting as well as "feeble" government leadership. An entire chapter explores every facet of nuclear power's past, present and future. Attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Chernobyl disaster are considered while fears over nuclear proliferation, waste disposal and the potential for terrorist attacks are explored.

This all-inclusive approach means that when the authors state "nuclear reactors deserve favour" and "nuclear's chequered... past need be no guide to its prospect in the future", the reader can make an informed decision as to whether or not to agree. It is this approach that makes the book such a credible read. Amid their brash attacks on "greens", government moralisers and climate zealots, Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky provide a thorough account as to why our warming world and its energy industry is in the situation it is in today.

Reviewed by Rebecca Pool, freelance technology writer

Wireless Broadband: conflict and convergence

By Vern Fotheringham & Chetan Sharma
IEEE Press, John Wiley & Sons, out now, £50.50

We are all aware of how wireless technology is increasingly affecting our lives. Convergence of technologies is a central theme of this comprehensive book on wireless broadband which looks at the effects this hot topic is having on the telecommunications industry and on societies.

The authors suggest that the telecommunications industry is going through a period of transition and will eventually emerge with a much more cost-effective and flexible wireless broadband service. They provide an interesting historical perspective of the telecoms industry looking at how it has developed since the break-up of the Bell monopoly in 1956.

Other chapters focus on social and economic factors such as the impact broadband technologies have had on the information society and the economy.

This is an extremely informative, insightful and thought-provoking volume. The glossary is also very useful.

Reviewed by Hazel Jones, assistant librarian, IET Library

Wind energy Pocket reference

By Peter H Jensen, Niels I Meyer, Niels G Mortensen, Glemming Oster
ISES, out now, £9.99

This book is indeed small and slim enough to fit into most pockets. It is the second in a series to be published by ISES, the first was the Solar Energy Pocket Reference 2005.

Though small, it is bursting with useful information: from wind flow to economic support.

There are various tables with reference to wind turbine history focusing on Danish turbines and electricity production, global potential for wind power production and the largest ten markets and their development from 2003.

Coloured diagrams of the wind atlases of the world go on to explain in further detail the calculations and verifications of wind resources at specific sites and over different terrains such as hills, escarpments and sheltering obstacles.

There is a checklist for inspection of a meteorological station or wind turbine site, as well as sections that explain calculations such as Weibull distribution and the logarithmic law.

The authors have crammed in a host of informative and useful information which makes this a very handy little book.

Reviewed by Dawn White, senior assistant, IET Library

Engineers in modern fiction

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Literary fiction might not be the first place you would expect to find engineers, scientists and inventors as protagonists but there are plenty of authors who use the socket set and soldering iron fraternity in their novels… and in exciting ways, too.

There is, of course, the body-bodging Dr Frankenstein and the epoch-jumping genius in H G Wells' 'The Time Machine'.

But what about modern books - where are the inventively-inclined in contemporary literature? All over the place, that's where.

One just example comes from author Daniel Handler, who wrote a 13-book collection called 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' - under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket - all about young engineer Violet Baudelaire and her siblings.

The series follows the misadventures of the three children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, who get orphaned when their parents die in a fire at the family mansion. The orphans go from adventure to adventure as they are chased by their evil uncle Count Olaf, who's set on getting a grip on the family fortune by any means necessary.

Each of the children has a specific skill that helps them escape from the Count's clutches during their trials and tribulations, and Violet's is to invent. Wise beyond her years, she can build a miniature helicopter out of an egg beater and some old copper wire, and even construct a device for making staples from a fork, a few teaspoons of creamed spinach and a small potato. Whatever the dire situation calls for, Violet ties up her hair with a ribbon and gets her hands dirty, just as any engineer should. Her tech skills often save the children from sticky situations, and you'll find her inventing something miraculous at least once in each of the stories.

Appealing to both adults and children, the series has a trademark doom-laden and cynical tone. Snicket consistently reminds readers to put the book down if they want to read a happy tale as nothing good ever happens to his heroes. For this reason, it was banned from many schools - and even entire US towns!

In a sense, it's like reading an episode of Lost: with every book the backstory grows and grows as you're given titbits of information about the children's parents, secret societies and Lemony Snicket's involvement in the orphans' lives.

Intriguing, exciting and foreboding, this is a great series to read on a quiet Sunday afternoon. It might also bring back to life your inner inventor.

Your egg whisk may never seem the same again…

Reviewed by Keri Allan

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