What makes the modern world work? The answer to this deceptively simple question lies in four "grand transitions" of civilization-in populations, agriculture, energy, and economics-which have transformed the way we live. Societies that have undergone all four transitions emerge into an era of radically different population dynamics, food surpluses (and waste), abundant energy use, and expanding economic opportunities. Simultaneously, in other parts of the world, hundreds of millions remain largely untouched by these developments. Through erudite storytelling, Vaclav Smil investigates the fascinating and complex interactions of these transitions. He argues that the moral imperative to share modernity's benefits has become more acute with increasing economic inequality, but addressing this imbalance would make it exceedingly difficult to implement the changes necessary for the long-term preservation of the environment. Thus, managing the fifth transition-environmental changes from natural-resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and global warming-will determine the success or eventual failure of the grand transitions that have made the world we live in today.
Post-WW1 inventions transformed the fundamental technical advances that created the modern world, and added new capabilities ranging from both military uses of nuclear energy to the universal diffusion of microprocessors. This book examines almost all of these technical transformations, and appraises their economic, social, and strategic impacts.
The two pre-WWI generations encompass the greatest innovative period in history. Technical inventions of 1867 - 1914 and their rapid improvement and commercialization created new prime movers, materials, infrastructures and information means that provided the lasting foundations of the modern world.