Home Stories What sweat, wine, and electrical energy can train us about humanity

What sweat, wine, and electrical energy can train us about humanity

Vaclav Smil is my favourite creator, however I typically hesitate to suggest his books to different folks. His writing, whereas good, is commonly too detailed or obscure for a common viewers. (Deep dives on Japanese dining habits or natural gas generally is a powerful promote for even the neatest, most considerate readers.) Nonetheless, I’m a sufficiently big fan to maintain telling my mates and colleagues about his books, though I do know most of them gained’t take me up on my suggestions.

That’s why I used to be thrilled when Vaclav launched his most accessible e-book but. Numbers Don’t Lie: 71 Issues You Have to Know In regards to the World, which got here out final fall, takes the whole lot that makes his writing nice and boils it down into an easy-to-read format. I unabashedly suggest this e-book to anybody who loves studying.


That is in all probability probably the most info Vaclav has ever put in a e-book, and but it’s by far probably the most digestible. Every chapter is only a couple pages lengthy and covers one of many 71 info talked about within the title. Listed here are three that I discovered notably fascinating:

1. You may thank sweat glands for our huge brains.

People are the grand champions of sweating. We’re capable of take away warmth from our our bodies by way of perspiration higher than every other mammal (partly as a result of we now have little or no hair). Vaclav writes, “Within the race of life, we people are neither the quickest nor the extra environment friendly. However due to our sweating capabilities, we’re actually probably the most persistent.”

Our ancestors had higher endurance than the animals they hunted for meals, which allowed them to run down wealthy sources of protein that supplied the gas for our brains to develop. The subsequent time you are feeling depressing on a sizzling day, simply take into consideration how all of the sweating you’re doing is the rationale you’re so sensible!

2. The French are ingesting lots much less wine than they used to.

“Viticulture, wine-drinking, and wine exports have been lengthy established as one of many key signifiers of nationwide id” in France, writes Vaclav. In 1926, the typical French particular person drank a powerful 136 liters of wine (or greater than 35 gallons). However by 2020, that determine had shrunk to simply 40 liters.

The concept French wine consumption is now a 3rd of what it was a century in the past is superb to me due to what it’d reveal about how society is altering. Whereas younger French persons are ingesting much less alcohol total, the consumption of mineral and spring water has doubled since 1990. Does that imply the French have gotten extra well being acutely aware? Was life simply so bleak within the Twenties that individuals needed to drink? Have folks changed ingesting wine with different diversions like watching TV or searching the online? I really like how this e-book forces you to consider the story behind a seemingly area of interest statistic.

3. The Eighteen Eighties is likely to be probably the most consequential decade in human historical past.

One in all my favourite issues about Vaclav’s writing is his capacity to place historical past in context. Though it’s tempting to see the period we’re residing in now as a time of unprecedented innovation, he argues that the Eighteen Eighties noticed the actual expertise growth. The last decade noticed the invention of electrical energy and the inner combustion engine—together with considerably much less consequential however nonetheless essential improvements just like the ballpoint pen, the trendy bicycle, and Coca-Cola. If you wish to learn extra concerning the innovations the Eighteen Eighties gave us, you possibly can obtain a free chapter right here:



Learn an chapter from Numbers Do not Lie

Gates Notes Insiders get unique entry to a range from Numbers Do not Lie. Enroll or log in to obtain now without spending a dime.

Learn an chapter from Numbers Do not Lie

Gates Notes Insiders get unique entry to a range from Numbers Do not Lie.

Obtain chapter

Learn an chapter from Numbers Do not Lie

Gates Notes Insiders get unique entry to a range from Numbers Do not Lie. Enroll or log in to obtain now without spending a dime.

Learn an chapter from Numbers Do not Lie

Gates Notes Insiders get unique entry to a range from Numbers Do not Lie.

Obtain chapter

Vaclav believes that progress is available in matches and begins relatively than in a relentless stream. Humanity will undergo lengthy intervals the place the whole lot stays the identical, after which a brand new invention will come alongside that units off a speedy interval of change. For instance, Thomas Edison’s discovery enabled the creation of the electrical elevator in 1889. This, in flip, allow us to construct taller buildings like skyscrapers since folks would now not should depend on stairs to achieve the highest ground. Metropolis skylines would look lots totally different at the moment if it weren’t for the Eighteen Eighties.

In the event you learn Numbers Don’t Lie and prefer it, you may additionally get pleasure from Vaclav’s newest e-book Grand Transitions. (He’s nothing if not prolific, having launched two books in the course of the pandemic.) It seems to be at how societies are formed by shifts in demographics, agriculture, economics, and power use. It’s not fairly as accessible as Numbers Don’t Lie, however the subject material is so fascinating that I believe folks will discover it worthwhile.

Vaclav finds as a lot pleasure and fascination in trying to the previous as anybody else I do know. As somebody who tends to be optimistic about expertise—perhaps even too optimistic at instances—I admire how his pure skepticism about future innovation retains my outlook practical. In the event you’re in search of somebody that will help you perceive how historical past ties collectively, you possibly can’t do higher than Vaclav—and Numbers Don’t Lie is a superb place to start out.

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