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Academic & Professional Books  History & Other Humanities  Environmental History

Fossil Capital The Rise of Steam-Power and the Roots of Global Warming

By: Andreas Malm(Author)
496 pages
Publisher: Verso Books
How capitalism became caught up in the carbon-burning trap
Fossil Capital
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  • Fossil Capital ISBN: 9781784781293 Edition: 1 Paperback Jan 2016 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 1-2 weeks
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About this book

The more we debate about the catastrophic implications of climate change, the more fossil fuels we continue to burn. How did we get caught up in this mess? In this masterful new history Fossil Capital, Malm claims that it all began in Britain with the rise of steam-power. So why did manufacturers turn from traditional fuels, notably water, to steam?

Overturning established theories of the transition and offering a radically new view of our warming world, this study shows how steam was adopted as a superior source of power. Two centuries later, the inheritors of that power continue to profit from 'business as usual' as the world heads towards irreversible catastrophe. Malm examines the history of resistance to fossil fuels and offers suggestions for transitioning to alternative sources of power, such as a return to waterpower.

Customer Reviews


Andreas Malm teaches human ecology at Lund University, Sweden. His work has appeared in journals such as Environmental History, Historical Materialism, Antipode and Organization & Environment. He is the author, with Shora Esmailian, of Iran on the Brink: Rising Workers and Threats of War, and of half a dozen books in Swedish on political economy, the Middle East and climate change.

By: Andreas Malm(Author)
496 pages
Publisher: Verso Books
How capitalism became caught up in the carbon-burning trap
Media reviews

Malm forcefully unmasks the assumption that economic growth has inevitably brought us to the brink of a hothouse Earth. Rather, as he shows in a subtle and surprising reinterpretation of the Industrial Revolution, it has been the logic of capital (especially the need to valorize immense sunk investments in fossil fuels), not technology or even industrialism per se, that has driven global warming. -- Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and Ecology of Fear
Fossil Capital is a theoretical masterpiece and a political-economic-ecological manifesto. It looks unblinkingly at the catastrophe that could await human society if we fail to act on the words System Change or Climate Change. It is a book that I will return to again and again-and take notes. -- John Bellamy Foster, University of Oregon, author of Marx's Ecology
The definitive deep history on how our economic system created the climate crisis. Superb, essential reading from one of the most original thinkers on the subject. -- Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine
A unique reconceptualization of the relationship between nature, capitalism, and Marxism. * Jacobin *
Will climate change make us evaluate differently the achievements of George Stevenson and James Watt, Industrial Age pioneers? For it was in Britain, which accounted for 80 per cent of fossil fuel combustion in 1825, that "the fossil economy" began. Malm's history is expansive and detailed, and often quite terrifying in its analysis. Essential reading. * Herald Scotland *
The birth of the fossil economy, avers human ecologist Andreas Malm, arrived when steam eclipsed water power in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. Around that, Malm builds a deep, insight-packed history of how society came to be in thrall to the twin engines of combustion and capital. -- Barbara Kiser * Nature *
A major and important revision of Marxist theory . a singularly important work, pointing the way for future work in economics, politics, theories of time, space and energy. * Radical Philosophy *
His thorough account of the switch to steam shows quite convincingly that coal did not make Britain great for everyone, and the transition was rooted not in technological superiority or environmental scarcity but in good old fashioned class conflict. -- Dayton Martindale * In These Times *
Anyone with an interest in ecology, and anyone opposed to capitalism, must read Malm's crucial contribution to understand how and why capitalism makes war on planet Earth. -- Bill Crane * International Socialist Review *
This impressive book speaks to several emergent areas in ecocriticism: material ecocriticism, the ubiquitous Anthropocene, environmental history, 'Victorian Ecology' . Such a formidable body of historical evidence has the potential to ignite both 'Victorian ecology' and a more socially engaged ecocriticism. -- John Parnham * Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism *
Has Andreas Malm written the crime story of the year with his book Fossil Capital? Or submitted the fossil world order to psychoanalysis? Both. The depth of his inquiry into how our economic system created the climate crisis is impressive . Very concrete, very beautiful, and perfectly reasonable. -- Joar Tiberg * Aftonbladet *
Fossil Capital presents, with impressive detail and theoretical clarity, how the fossil fuel economy has come into being. Malm does not reiterate commonplaces about climate change, but looks closely at its origins. This extremely well-written book is radical without being dogmatic. Malm does not take his audience for granted at any point; there are no short cuts. * Marx and Philosophy Review of Books *
Remarkable book -- Benjamin Kunkel * London Review of Books *
This is a denser, wonkier, and more historical survey of the long, ugly marriage between fossil fuels and capitalism - in fact, between fossil fuels and the entire history of economic growth. -- David Wallace-Wells * New York Magazine *
The best book written about the origins of global warming ... Like Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything, Fossil Capital trenchantly demonstrated that capitalism and capitalists are responsible for climate change. -- Michael Robbins * Bookforum *
If we are to rescue ourselves from the looming catastrophe that is climate change, one of our tasks must be to understand how we became enmeshed in an economy powered by fossil fuels. It would be hard to find a more illuminating book for this purpose than Fossil Capital , a history of the rise of coal-fired steam power in Britain. In the tradition of historians such as Robert Brenner and Ellen Meiksins Wood, Andreas Malm gives central importance to the capitalist social relations in which steam power is deployed as a form of power over people, challenging technological determinist accounts of the rise of the fossil economy (that steam power was inherently more efficient), as well as the " Anthropocene narrative" that sees the fossil economy as the inevitable outcome of human use of fire, and the Ricardian-Malthusian narrative that coal power was adopted because it was more abundant and cheaper than water. -- Michael W. Howard * Socialism and Democracy *
Brilliant -- Paul Gillespie * Irish Times *

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