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Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization [Kindle Edition]

Vaclav Smil

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"Summing Up: Recommended. Academic, general, and professional readers." (Choice, 1 October 2014)
"Vaclav Smil keeps turning out amazing books. Making the Modern World, I just finished, and it's pretty fantastic." (Interview with Bill Gates, 22 January 2014)
"This makes the book particularly suitable for students, and not just those in obviously-related disciplines: it's a good example of fact-based reasoning, one material we can always use more of." (Chemistry & Industry, 1 January 2014)


How much further should the affluent world push its material consumption? Does relative dematerialization lead to absolute decline in demand for materials?  These and many other questions are discussed and answered in Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization.

Over the course of time, the modern world has become dependent on unprecedented flows of materials. Now even the most efficient production processes and the highest practical rates of recycling may not be enough to result in dematerialization rates that would be high enough to negate the rising demand for materials generated by continuing population growth and rising standards of living. This book explores the costs of this dependence and the potential for substantial dematerialization of modern economies. 

Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization considers the principal materials used throughout history, from wood and stone, through to metals, alloys, plastics and silicon, describing their extraction and production as well as their dominant applications. The evolving productivities of material extraction, processing, synthesis, finishing and distribution, and the energy costs and environmental impact of rising material consumption are examined in detail. The book concludes with an outlook for the future, discussing the prospects for dematerialization and potential constrains on materials.

This interdisciplinary text provides useful perspectives for readers with backgrounds including resource economics, environmental studies, energy analysis, mineral geology, industrial organization, manufacturing and material science.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 1150 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 244 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 1119942535
  • Verlag: Wiley; Auflage: 1 (2. Oktober 2013)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ISBN-10: 1118697995
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118697993
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Aktiviert
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #126.108 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.2 von 5 Sternen  12 Rezensionen
21 von 22 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Von John C. Lambropoulos - Veröffentlicht auf
Vaclav Smil’s book is a fascinating and thorough analysis, on how the use of materials in our civilization has evolved from prehistoric times to the 21st century. The main argument is revealing: We, the collective humanity, have seen a relative dematerialization (less raw material per device) and declining energy intensity (energy expended per unit mass) driven by gradual improvements, substitutions, intensified recycling, and introduction of entirely new devices. On the other hand, the growing populations and improving quality of life have translated into a steadily rising demand for most traditional materials and greatly expanded production of new materials. Smil’s conclusion is that in all cases there has been no dematerialization in absolute terms at any national or the global level.

Smil displays a polymath’s knowledge of technology, economics, history, and policy. Be warned: The book is filled with data, and must be read thoroughly. Expect a whirlwind of units for mass, power, and energy. The data are not always presented attractively: Often they are recited in the text, making dense reading. Arrangements in graphs or tables would make a mush easier way to absorb the massive amount of information presented and interpreted.

Starting with the use of all materials over the course of human history, Smil concentrates on the prevalent materials of our material culture: Metals (steel, aluminum), biomass (timber, paper), plastics, glass and cement, fertilizers, industrial gases, and semiconductors (silicon.)

I found reading this book an exhilarating experience: I literally could not put it down, and I heavily annotated my copy. The arguments were compelling and well substantiated. My main criticism has to do with not bringing into the picture the technical capabilities of modern composites and catalysts, and with the apparent lack of the materials selection ideas presented by Mike Ashby and his colleagues at Cambridge in the last twenty years.

I would also identify a full absence of discussing sustainability, especially as driven by the possibility of global climate change. Clearly absolute dematerialization and global climate change have little to do with relative dematerialization, given the fact we all live in a finite world enclosed by a finite atmosphere. Relative dematerilization may be good for national policy but not so for global issues facing our collective humanity.
16 von 19 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen What do we do when we run out of Smil? 27. Mai 2014
Von Stephen C. Baer - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
Smil looks at economies their cities, machines, high-ways, farms, vehicles, airplanes and he finds music in statistics. Tonages, gallons, watts, Joules, Newtons and populations. He must compose the score of this music in his head. Musical though made of numbers not numerical, instinctive not contrived. This latest of Smil’s brilliant books repeats statistical music we are familiar with from earlier studies but this work is more extreme, Smil breaks into a dance celebrating his fond dream of de-materialization. In earlier books such as the recent “Should we Eat Meat” Smil has made clear his distaste for greed and extravagance. We humans, especially Americans indulge ourselves. We needn’t eat steak at every meal, drive there ton SUV’s. His statistic crowded studies should be effective because he employs “science” and skirts tiresome scolding’s we have become immune to. De-materialization brings on excitement. The music of statistics isn’t enough to accompany man’s great accomplishments. De-materialization promises technical ecstasy. Lighter and lighter aluminum beer cans. 85 grams for the first, now only 12.75 grams. More and more powerful yet lighter internal combustion engines. Jets and rockets so powerful they may overshoot outer space. The facts are assembled and referenced in studies that make your head spin as Smil accelerates intricate numerical observations. Sadly the de-materialization dance ends in a somber switch as Smil accepts defeat switching from ever lighter beer cans, jet engines and computers to what we strangle and clog our roads with, huge heavy cars.
Smil carefully documents their ungainly mass as dependent on the price of oil, like a biologist charting the size of pigeons and the acorn crop they feed on. This part of the story leaves Smil crestfallen. This disappointment after what can be done by de-materialization. In a later chapter Smil disagrees with our perennial mongers of shortages. “We are soon to run out of …..” our real dilemma is more complicated for our end will not come from exhaustion. We can mine scrap, dig deeper, invent substitutes. We suffer self inflicted damage; struggle to make ourselves fat and unhappy. Reading his rebuttals to those predicting exhausting oil, gas, phosphate, copper etc. I found another worry; running out of Vaclav Smil. Born in 1948 how many more years of wisdom can we expect?
This book is not perfect, Smil is a carrier of a modern sickness, the over use of initials. This leaves the reader out in a wilderness; what does this mean? How can the author be proud of switching to code when he could remain with well understood English?
7 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Making the Modern World Kindle Edition 19. April 2014
Von Amazon Customer - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
A fascinating account by professor Smil on global material extraction, use, and after-use through the centuries, and sobering thoughts on ecological pressures and future developments. The large middle part of the book is digested with difficulty; the very detailed number crunching is overwhelming. One comes away wiser, however. Exhaustively referenced, including many web links. Less appreciated: the price is steep, non-functional index at the end of the book,(the Kindle option bar activated TOC works), editing errors at times. Recommended for those who want a higly detailed view on the subject.
6 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Very Comprehensive History and Overview Of Materials Usage Across The World 16. August 2014
Von Joao Cortez - Veröffentlicht auf
This book can be too technical sometimes, but it gives a very comprehensive history about the usage of materials throughout history; describes the importance, application and production of the main materials; details the evolution of the main material flows and consumption; and gives an outlook for the future about the materials usage.
11 von 14 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen learning from smil 25. Dezember 2013
Von rory french - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition
Once again Smil explains the modern world. This time by explaining what materials we use. Cement and steel are the most important but he explains them all. He shows changes over time in efficiency and consumption. Recycling and environmental issues are explained. Both the achievement and the challenges ahead are discussed.
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