Books: Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 10:21 AM PDT

If you think green energy is a 21st century breakthrough, think again: In 1900, roughly one-third of automobiles were electric; the first megawatt wind turbine was built in 1941; and today's wave-power startups can trace their roots to the Wave-Power Air-Compressing Company, which claimed "one of the greatest inventions of the age"—in 1895. In Powering the Dream, Madrigal, The Atlantic's tech editor, delves into alternative energy's past to glean its future. A master at autopsies of promising yet deceased technologies, he argues that some of them flopped due to lack of funding, while others, like the early '40s wind turbine, were too far ahead of their time (another turbine of its size wouldn't be built for 40 years). As Madrigal smartly shows, tackling the climate crisis takes more than inventing the next killer app: You also have to convince people to use it.

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