John Etzler was probably crazy, but not so much more than your average futurist… We know him best for a slim, cockeyed volume he wrote in the 1830s. Filled with mental sketches for tremendous machines… his book rests on an insight still blooming — sun and wind and waves are the sources of infinite power.
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.
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 fore saw our current problems, tried to invent cheap and energy-renewable solutions, and drew the blueprint for a green future.
Nuclear Haze – Guenica Magazine
Why America Doesn't Have a Respectable Solar Industry – Gizmodo
Think Globally, Destroy Locally: Environmentalism for the 21st Century – The Atlantic
The Electric Taxi Company You Could Have Called in 1900 – The Atlantic
A Talk with Alexis Madrigal – DeCapo
Powering the Dream – on earth
Read This – BoingBoing
Powerful Stuff — Outside
Green Dreams: Lost and Found — Conservation
The history & promise of greentech — Grist
"It’s refreshing to read a history book whose intent is to improve decisions in the present and near future."
— Stewart Brand, President of The Long Now Foundation
"The entrepreneurs and advocates pushing green technology today are inheritors of a rich history of innovation, experiment, accident ... and occasionally farce. That history, too rarely told, is at the heart of Alexis Madrigal’s absorbing, often astonishing new book."
— David Roberts, Grist
"Madrigal manages — without any gonzo shenanigans — to engage and sometimes even electrify the reader with lean and jaunty prose, skillful storytelling, analytic theorizing, and a proficiency in factual gee-whizzery. . .He makes the dream of a perfect power source seem all the more urgent, now that we know for how long, and in how many past episodes, it’s been deferred."
“Part history of America’s use of green technologies, part history of our relationship with that technology, and part hope for the future…On all these counts, the book is successful…Recommended for general readers with an interest in America’s past, present, and future relationship with green technology.”
— Library Journal
“[Madrigal is] a master at autopsies of promising yet deceased technologies.”
— Mother Jones
“[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.”
“In a world reeling from the news of the nuclear plant failures at Fukushima, no book could be more timely than Alexis Madrigal’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. What’s lacking is contextual background and perspective. Powering the Dream provides that…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 technologies…Those who are concerned about the future of energy and the environment will find Powering the Dream a very informative and useful resource.”
— New York Journal of Books
“Madrigal's tour of the forgotten history of green technology is more than just an entertaining jaunt back through time…The history he documents is instructive to our current energy policy debate.”
— The Atlantic
“Madrigal seems to understand better than most writers on this topic that capitalism itself can be the great growth engine producing better and greener technology…Madrigal’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 writing…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.”
“Personable and engaging…Refreshingly, it’s not a depressing, we’ve completely screwed up the planet kind of book. There’s an optimism that shines through...In the end, Madrigal writes a book that works on many levels. While not particularly scholarly, his simple statements…do ask audiences to think critically, his chapter openings are catchy, and his optimism gives readers hope that it’s not too late to find greener technologies.”
“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 be…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 references…Madrigal also does an excellent job in outlining the characters behind technical innovation…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.”
— Internet Review of Book
“Madrigal records a century and a half of American energy innovation — such as electric taxicabs in 1900 — and imagines the future.”
— St. Petersburg Times
“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 we’re experiencing now in perspective.”
“Inspiring…The first book to explore both the forgotten history and the visionary future of America’s green-tech innovators.”
— Hudson Valley News
“Well-thought-out ideas about how to advance low-cost green technology.”
— Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A quiet page-turner that anyone concerned with our future energy policy — or lack thereof — should read…Madrigal is a talented wordsmith and astute researcher with an eye for ferreting out the ‘need-to-know’ minutia in a complicated world of energy giants, green pioneers and international trading markets.”
“[An] eye opening and very engaging book…A celebration of the spirit of innovation and its many successes and failures…Well researched…Fascinating and thought provoking…This book will change the way you think about green technology, and its past, present, and future.”
— Blog Business World