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
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’ ( 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...

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SheffieldUK

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