Umbrex has developed this list of the best books on the energy industry based on input from the management consultants in our community, our clients, and other professionals.
We believe that to serve a client effectively, it is helpful to have a deep context on the history of the client’s industry, including prominent companies, individuals, and technologies.
This list of best books on the energy industry is a work in progress, not a final answer, and we invite you to submit your recommendations on our Contact page.
We also invite you to check out our list of the best podcasts on the energy industry.
Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist
The first book to offer a proven, fast, inexpensive, and practical way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change.
As climate change quickly approaches a series of turning points that guarantee disastrous outcomes, a solution is hiding in plain sight. Several countries have already replaced fossil fuels with low-carbon energy sources, and done so rapidly, in one to two decades. By following their methods, we could decarbonize the global economy by midcentury, replacing fossil fuels even while world energy use continues to rise. But so far we have lacked the courage to really try.
In this clear-sighted and compelling book, Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist explain how clean energy quickly replaced fossil fuels in such places as Sweden, France, South Korea, and Ontario. Their people enjoyed prosperity and growing energy use in harmony with the natural environment. They didn’t do this through personal sacrifice, nor through 100 percent renewables, but by using them in combination with an energy source the Swedes call kÃ¤kraft, hundreds of times safer and cleaner than coal.
Clearly written and beautifully illustrated, yet footnoted with extensive technical references, Goldstein and Qvist’s book will provide a new touchstone in discussions of climate change. It could spark a shift in world energy policy that, in the words of Steven Pinker’s foreword, literally saves the world.Read moreRead less
Historically, it was guns, germs, and steel that determined the fates of people and nations. Now, more than ever, it is electricity.
Global demand for power is doubling every two decades, but electricity remains one of the most difficult forms of energy to supply and do so reliably. Today, some three billion people live in places where per-capita electricity use is less than what’s used by an average American refrigerator. How we close the colossal gap between the electricity rich and the electricity poor will determine our success in addressing issues like women’s rights, inequality, and climate change.
In A Question of Power, veteran journalist Robert Bryce tells the human story of electricity, the world’s most important form of energy. Through onsite reporting from India, Iceland, Lebanon, Puerto Rico, New York, and Colorado, he shows how our cities, our money–our very lives–depend on reliable flows of electricity. He highlights the factors needed for successful electrification and explains why so many people are still stuck in the dark.
With vivid writing and incisive analysis, he powerfully debunks the notion that our energy needs can be met solely with renewables and demonstrates why–if we are serious about addressing climate change–nuclear energy must play a much bigger role.
Electricity has fueled a new epoch in the history of civilization. A Question of Power explains how that happened and what it means for our future.Read moreRead less
A revelatory, urgent narrative with national implications, exploring the decline of California’s largest utility company that led to countless wildfires — including the one that destroyed the town of Paradise — and the human cost of infrastructure failure
Pacific Gas and Electric was a legacy company built by innovators and visionaries, establishing California as a desirable home and economic powerhouse. In California Burning, Wall Street Journal reporter and Pulitzer finalist Katherine Blunt examines how that legacy fell apart—unraveling a long history of deadly failures in which Pacific Gas and Electric endangered millions of Northern Californians, through criminal neglect of its infrastructure. As PG&E prioritized profits and politics, power lines went unchecked—until a rusted hook purchased for 56 cents in 1921 split in two, sparking the deadliest wildfire in California history.
Beginning with PG&E’s public reckoning after the Paradise fire, Blunt chronicles the evolution of PG&E’s shareholder base, from innovators who built some of California’s first long-distance power lines to aggressive investors keen on reaping dividends. Following key players through pivotal decisions and legal battles, California Burning reveals the forces that shaped the plight of PG&E: deregulation and market-gaming led by Enron Corp., an unyielding push for renewable energy, and a swift increase in wildfire risk throughout the West, while regulators and lawmakers pushed their own agendas.
California Burning is a deeply reported, character-driven narrative, the story of a disaster expanding into a much bigger exploration of accountability. It’s an American tragedy that serves as a cautionary tale for utilities across the nation—especially as climate change makes aging infrastructure more vulnerable, with potentially fatal consequences.Read moreRead less
James Morton Turner
The dirty work essential to a clean energy transition.
To achieve fossil fuel independence, few technologies are more important than batteries. Used for powering zero-emission vehicles, storing electricity from solar panels and wind turbines, and revitalizing the electric grid, batteries are essential to scaling up the renewable energy resources that help address global warming. But given the unique environmental impact of batteries—including mining, disposal, and more—does a clean energy transition risk trading one set of problems for another?
In Charged, James Morton Turner unpacks the history of batteries to explore why solving “the battery problem” is critical to a clean energy transition. As climate activists focus on what a clean energy future will create—sustainability, resiliency, and climate justice—the history of batteries offers a sharp reminder of what building that future will consume: lithium, graphite, nickel, and other specialized materials. With new insight on the consequences for people and communities on the frontlines, Turner draws on the past for crucial lessons that will help us build a just and clean energy future, from the ground up.Read moreRead less
A “meticulously researched” (The New York Times Book Review) examination of energy transitions over time and an exploration of the current challenges presented by global warming, a surging world population, and renewable energy—from Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author Richard Rhodes.
People have lived and died, businesses have prospered and failed, and nations have risen to world power and declined, all over energy challenges. Through an unforgettable cast of characters, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes explains how wood gave way to coal and coal made room for oil, as we now turn to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable energy. “Entertaining and informative…a powerful look at the importance of science” (NPR.org), Rhodes looks back on five centuries of progress, through such influential figures as Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, Benjamin Franklin, Herman Melville, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford.
In his “magisterial history…a tour de force of popular science” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), Rhodes shows how breakthroughs in energy production occurred; from animal and waterpower to the steam engine, from internal-combustion to the electric motor. He looks at the current energy landscape, with a focus on how wind energy is competing for dominance with cast supplies of coal and natural gas. He also addresses the specter of global warming, and a population hurtling towards ten billion by 2100.
Human beings have confronted the problem of how to draw energy from raw material since the beginning of time. Each invention, each discovery, each adaptation brought further challenges, and through such transformations, we arrived at where we are today. “A beautifully written, often inspiring saga of ingenuity and progress…Energy brings facts, context, and clarity to a key, often contentious subject” (Booklist, starred review).Read moreRead less
A comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society throughout history, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today’s fossil fuel–driven civilization.
Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows—ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity—for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today’s fossil fuel–driven civilization.
Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts—from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity’s energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil’s Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.Read moreRead less
Weaving together findings from a wide range of disciplines, Power traces how four key elements developed to give humans extraordinary power: tool making ability, language, social complexity, and the ability to harness energy sources ― most significantly, fossil fuels. It asks whether we have, at this point, overpowered natural and social systems, and if we have, what we can do about it.
Has Homo sapiens ― one species among millions ― become powerful enough to threaten a mass extinction and disrupt the Earth’s climate? Why have we developed so many ways of oppressing one another? Can we change our relationship with power to avert ecological catastrophe, reduce social inequality, and stave off collapse?
These questions ― and their answers ― will determine our fate.
Recommended by: Franziska RaedekerRead moreRead less
Professor Bruce Usher
From wood to coal to oil and gas, the sources of energy on which civilization depends have always changed as technology advances. Now renewables are overtaking fossil fuels, with wind and solar energy becoming cheaper and more competitive every year. Growth in renewable energy will further accelerate as electric vehicles become less expensive than traditional automobiles. Understanding the implications of the energy transition will prepare us for the many changes ahead.
This book is a primer for readers of all levels on the coming energy transition and its global consequences. Bruce Usher provides a concise yet comprehensive explanation for the extraordinary growth in wind and solar energy; the trajectory of the transition from fossil fuels to renewables; and the implications for industries, countries, and the climate. Written in a straightforward style with easy-to-understand visual aids, the book illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of renewable energy based on business fundamentals and analysis of the economic forces that have given renewables a tailwind. Usher dissects the winners and losers, illustrating how governments and businesses with a far-sighted approach will reap long-term benefits while others will trail behind. Alongside the business and finance case for renewable energy, he provides a timely illustration of the threat of catastrophic climate change and the perils of delay. A short and powerful guide to our energy present and future, this book makes it clear that, from both economic and environmental perspectives, there is no time to lose.Read moreRead less
How solar could spark a clean-energy transition through transformative innovation—creative financing, revolutionary technologies, and flexible energy systems.
Solar energy, once a niche application for a limited market, has become the cheapest and fastest-growing power source on earth. What’s more, its potential is nearly limitless—every hour the sun beams down more energy than the world uses in a year. But in Taming the Sun, energy expert Varun Sivaram warns that the world is not yet equipped to harness erratic sunshine to meet most of its energy needs. And if solar’s current surge peters out, prospects for replacing fossil fuels and averting catastrophic climate change will dim.
Innovation can brighten those prospects, Sivaram explains, drawing on firsthand experience and original research spanning science, business, and government. Financial innovation is already enticing deep-pocketed investors to fund solar projects around the world, from the sunniest deserts to the poorest villages. Technological innovation could replace today’s solar panels with coatings as cheap as paint and employ artificial photosynthesis to store intermittent sunshine as convenient fuels. And systemic innovation could add flexibility to the world’s power grids and other energy systems so they can dependably channel the sun’s unreliable energy.
Unleashing all this innovation will require visionary public policy: funding researchers developing next-generation solar technologies, refashioning energy systems and economic markets, and putting together a diverse clean energy portfolio. Although solar can’t power the planet by itself, it can be the centerpiece of a global clean energy revolution.Read moreRead less
W. Bernard Carlson
The definitive account of Tesla’s life and work.
Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America’s first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.
Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla’s private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an “idealist” inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion.
This major biography sheds new light on Tesla’s visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.Read moreRead less
Europe and Russia are pushing against each other in a contest of economic doctrines and political ambitions, seemingly erasing the vision of cooperation that emerged from the end of the Cold War. Thane Gustafson argues that natural gas serves as a bridge over troubled geopolitical waters, uniting the region through common economic interests.Read moreRead less
The energy industry is changing, and it’s far more than just solar panels. Electric vehicles look to overtake gasoline-powered cars within our lifetimes, wind farms are popping up in unlikely places, traders are transforming energy into a commodity, and supercomputers are crunching vast amounts of data in nanoseconds while helping to keep our energy grids secure from hackers.
The way humans produce, distribute and consume power will be cleaner, cheaper, and infinitely more complex within the next decade. In The Energy Switch, leading energy industry expert Peter Kelly-Detwiler looks at all aspects of the transformation: how we got here, where we are going, and the implications for all of us in our daily lives.
Kelly-Detwiler takes readers to the frontlines of the energy revolution. Meet Steve Collins, an executive from Commercial Development Corporation, the company that blew up two $570-million-dollar concrete cooling towers to create a staging ground for the new $70 billion U.S. offshore wind industry; Rob Threlkeld, a General Motors executive who convinced the auto giant to sign multiple 20-year renewable energy contracts worth hundreds of millions; Kevin McAlpin, a Texas homeowner who buys the power for his home on the electricity spot market – where prices can soar from less than one cent a kilowatthour to $9.00 over the course of a single day; Dr. Kristin Persson, who oversees a supercomputer that can process data at 30 quadrillion calculations per second, in the quest for better renewable energy and battery technologies; and John Davis, a Texas rancher who can keep his land intact, with help from the royalty payments from seven turbines spinning on his range.Read moreRead less
A revelatory look at our national power grid–how it developed, its current flaws, and how it must be completely reimagined for our fast-approaching energy future.
America’s electrical grid, an engineering triumph of the twentieth century, is turning out to be a poor fit for the present. It’s not just that the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources–solar, wind, and other alternatives–the grid is what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future. If we hope to realize this future, we need to reimagine the grid according to twenty-first-century values. It’s a project which forces visionaries to work with bureaucrats, legislators with storm-flattened communities, moneymen with hippies, and the left with the right. And though it might not yet be obvious, this revolution is already well under way.
Cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke unveils the many facets of America’s energy infrastructure, its most dynamic moments and its most stable ones, and its essential role in personal and national life. The grid, she argues, is an essentially American artifact, one which developed with us: a product of bold expansion, the occasional foolhardy vision, some genius technologies, and constant improvisation. Most of all, her focus is on how Americans are changing the grid right now, sometimes with gumption and big dreams and sometimes with legislation or the brandishing of guns.
The Grid tells–entertainingly, perceptively–the story of what has been called “the largest machine in the world”: its fascinating history, its problematic present, and its potential role in a brighter, cleaner future.Read moreRead less
A Wall Street Journal bestseller and a USA Today Best Book of 2020.
Named Energy Writer of the Year for The New Map by the American Energy Society.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and global energy expert, Daniel Yergin offers a revelatory new account of how energy revolutions, climate battles, and geopolitics are mapping our future.
The world is being shaken by the collision of energy, climate change, and the clashing power of nations in a time of global crisis. Out of this tumult is emerging a new map of energy and geopolitics. The “shale revolution” in oil and gas has transformed the American economy, ending the “era of shortage” but introducing a turbulent new era. Almost overnight, the United States has become the world’s number one energy powerhouse. Yet concern about energy’s role in climate change is challenging the global economy and way of life, accelerating a second energy revolution in the search for a low-carbon future. All of this has been made starker and more urgent by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic dark age that it has wrought.
World politics is being upended, as a new cold war develops between the United States and China, and the rivalry grows more dangerous with Russia, which is pivoting east toward Beijing. Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping are converging both on energy and on challenging American leadership, as China projects its power and influence in all directions. The South China Sea, claimed by China and the world’s most critical trade route, could become the arena where the United States and China directly collide. The map of the Middle East, which was laid down after World War I, is being challenged by jihadists, revolutionary Iran, ethnic and religious clashes, and restive populations. But the region has also been shocked by the two recent oil price collapses–and by the very question of oil’s future in the rest of this century.Read moreRead less
“The Prize” recounts the panoramic history of oil – and the struggle for wealth and power that has always surrounded oil. This struggle has shaken the world economy, dictated the outcome of wars, and transformed the destiny of men and nations. “The Prize” is as much a history of the twentieth century as of the oil industry itself. The canvas of history is enormous – from the drilling of the first well in Pennsylvania through two great world wars to the Iraqui invastion of Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Recommended by: George PalmerRead moreRead less
A master storyteller as well as a leading energy expert, Daniel Yergin continues the riveting story begun in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Prize. In The Quest, Yergin shows us how energy is an engine of global political and economic change and conflict, in a story that spans the energies on which our civilization has been built and the new energies that are competing to replace them.
The Quest tells the inside stories, tackles the tough questions, and reveals surprising insights about coal, electricity, and natural gas. He explains how climate change became a great issue and leads readers through the rebirth of renewable energies, energy independence, and the return of the electric car. Epic in scope and never more timely, The Quest vividly reveals the decisions, technologies, and individuals that are shaping our future.
Recommended by: Peter EckartRead moreRead less