If, in the ancient world, it was guns and germs and steel that determined the fates of people and nations, in modern times it is electricity. No other form of power translates into affluence and influence like it. Though demand for it is growing exponentially, it remains one of the most difficult forms of energy to supply and to do so reliably. Storage is even harder. This paradox has shaped global politics, affected the outcome of wars, and underlies the growing chasm between rich and poor, educated and uneducated. It is changing the game for business, and the requirements of national defence. It is altering the landscape and complicating the task of dealing effectively with climate change.
In A Question of Power, Robert Bryce explains the unique nature of electricity as a commodity. He draws on stories from history to illustrate the stunning impact of our quest to harness it, illuminates exactly what is required to successfully sustain it, and explores the impact on societies and individuals when it collapses.
As billions of people around the world still live in darkness, the gap between the electricity haves and have-nots widens, with profound political and ethical consequences. Modern life, even civilisation, has become ever more dependent on a source of energy that must be produced locally and in the moment, in a reliably steady stream at particular wattage, conveyed on wires strung on poles or threaded through pipes. If the lights go out, so does our manner of living, with potentially devastating consequences.
"Informative and highly readable"
– Foreign Affairs
"Shocking revelations about electricity [...] A robust look at where the juice flows around the planet – and its planetary implications."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Of all the aspects of modern life in the developed world, flipping a switch and having the lights come on ranks as one of the most underrated. It's good to be reminded, as Bryce does through powerful examples, that such convenience was unheard of until the late nineteenth century [...] In this wide-ranging history of electricity, power expert Bryce takes readers beyond the table lamp and microwave to demonstrate how crucial safe, dependable, and plentiful electricity is to a host of contemporary innovations, from cryptocurrency mining to marijuana cultivation."