Children of the sun: A history of humanity's unappeasable appetite for energy

Children of the sun: A history of humanity’s unappeasable appetite for energy  

Alfred Crosby  

New York, US: Norton | 2006 | 192pp | $23.95 (SB) | ISBN 9780393059359  

Reviewed by Dennis Rouvray

The most extensive electricity blackout ever experienced took place on 14 August 2003 and it affected some 50 million people living along and near the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada. The blackout was not caused by system overloading, nor even by terrorists, but simply by sagging power lines that had come into contact with trees. Sparks began to fly and this was quickly followed by a cascade of shortcircuiting. Power plants started to fail in rapid succession until over 100 were no longer operating. The general chaos that ensued meant that more than 50 cities had to be shut down completely and many millions of people’s lives were severely disrupted. Although the power outage lasted only for a day or so, it brought home to many energy-profligate North Americans for the first time their utter dependence on a regular power supply. It even caused more reflective individuals to begin to ponder where all of the massive power needs of North America might be coming from in the future. 

One such individual was the author of Children of the sun. He decided to write this book with the express purpose of conveying to the widest possible audience an awareness of the current rather dire energy situation that now confronts all of us. The work has been written primarily with a lay readership in mind and this seems to be fitting as the author is a historian rather than a scientist. Many aspects of the history of power generation are covered, but the main emphasis falls on our current dilemmas and possible future alternative energy sources. Although Crosby does not opt for any specific kind of energy, he is strongly against the use of fossil fuels and seems to have a preference for fusion energy which he believes we could be tapping into within 30 years, provided enough research funding is made available. He quotes with evident approval the words of Richard Hazeltine, chairman of President Bush’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee: ’Fusion science is on the edge of vanishing - we need to go ahead and turn this damn thing on!’