To start out this review honestly, I finished reading The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin over a year ago so this is not a particularly ‘fresh’ review from me. However, I found that it was the perfect book with which to begin my book review series because it is considered by many in the energy industry to be the seminal book tracking the historical and geopolitical forces that shaped today’s landscape of energy markets and systems (and I was able to reference the notes I made to myself when reading through it for the first time).
This is book is incredibly rich with information about EVERYTHING related to energy. Obviously at over 800 pages, it’s not a light or quick read– but the depth of information and amount you can learn from it, regardless of it you’re learning about the state of world energy affairs for the first time or you’re a seasoned veteran of the industry, makes taking the time to read it more than worthwhile.
The first section of The Quest starts with a deep dive into the world of oil– the history and politics that have shaped today’s oil landscape, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the formation of the various nations in the Middle East. I really enjoyed learning more about this political and geographic background, as without proper historical context it can be difficult to fully understand the posturing, trade deals, and tensions that are found in the daily headlines regarding oil-rich countries and their conflicts. I also greatly enjoyed the background information on how the current ‘electric age’ came to be, detailing the genius of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, the early rivalry and battles between their nascent companies in setting up an electric system, and how the legacy of those decisions in the early 20th century still affect how we use energy over a hundred years later.
The book continues on to detail the future of oil, as well as a vast amount of background on the technologies that went into discovering, trading, and utilizing non-oil energy sources such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, and renewable energy. Yergin finishes the story by relating the wealth of background information and historical context of the international energy landscape to how it will come shape our world in the future– politically, economically, socially, and technologically– by way of climate change, public policy, the future of transportation, the security of the energy grid, and continuing competition between nations for resources.
- Content—5/5: This book is nothing if not extremely informative. Yergin does a phenomenal job at shining a spotlight at the relation between state of the modern world and the allocation of various sources of energy and how the balances have shifted over time. If you are interested in learning a broad but in depth background on the state of worldwide energy affairs, you would be hard-pressed to find another book with this much information and analysis crammed into it.
- Readability—3/5: Be forewarned, this is not a book to be picked up lightly unless you’re ready to commit to a thorough read. Obviously the intent was not for this to be a poolside, pop science read, but rather a thorough volume that extensively covers the topic. That is, of course, a good thing as Yergin wrote this book to be studied moreso than consumed. However, at over 800 pages it did at times feel like a homework assignment to pick up again and slough through another dense chapter—and because of this it ended up taking me pretty much all of last summer to read.
- Authority—5/5: Yergin is a renowned energy researcher, market analyst, economist, and many other accolades that there aren’t room to list here. Not only does his name itself carry enough weight to make this book an authority on the topic, but the research and analysis that went into it is plainly evident. You are reading from one of the authorities in modern energy markets.
- FINAL RATING—4.3/5: Again, this book is by no means a light read– and I had to take a break from it at times so I didn’t get overwhelmed on the topic (which is saying something, given that the future of energy is the social/political topic about which I’m most passionate). But if you can commit the time and really want to contextualize the past, present, and future of energy– do yourself a favor and pick up this book.
If you’re interested in following what else I’m reading, even outside of energy-related topics, feel free to follow me on Goodreads. Should this review compel you to pick up The Quest by Daniel Yergin, please consider buying on Amazon through this link.
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.