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Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 363–364 | Cite as

Vaclav Smil: Harvesting the biosphere: What we have taken from nature

The MIT Press, London and Cambridge MA, 2013, 307 pp, ISBN 978-0-262-01856-2
  • Anna KrzywoszynskaEmail author
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This is a book which became famous for being reviewed by Bill Gates. Yes, I am trying to fill some rather large shoes here, but I am heartened to read that Gates too found the book ‘a bit dry’ (gatesnotes.com). Lest the readers think both Gates and I are feeble hearted, allow me to provide a random excerpt:

Harvested residues have low density, with cereal straws rating just 50–100 kg/m3 (compared to more than 500 kg/m3 for wood); uncompressed corn stover weighs just between 21 and 111 kg/m3, and sugarcane bagasse leaving the final mill averages about 120 kg/m3 p. 44.

I promise, this sample is representative.

What Smil attempts in the book is no mean task: his aim is to ‘review the entire spectrum of harvests and present the best possible quantification of past and current global removals and losses as a way to assess the evolution and extent of human claims on the biosphere’ (p. viii). In other words, he attempts to quantify—in percentages and kilograms—the effect the human population...

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SheffieldUK

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