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Vaclav Smil. // photo by David Lipnowski [BA(Hons)/08]

The New Yorker: Vaclav Smil and the Value of Doubt

February 20, 2024 — 

Not long ago, I randomly opened Vaclav Smil’s recent book “Size: How It Explains the World.” The first paragraph I read, in a chapter about good and bad design, concerned rubber flip-flops, which Smil described as among the world’s most widely owned individual possessions even though “they provide neither good lateral support nor basic vertical stability.”

The following paragraph, about furniture, mentioned “the steadily diminishing share of the rich world’s population that grows food, catches fish, cuts wood, mines minerals and builds structures.” The next touched on religious pilgrimages, airports, and commuting to work. In 2018, Elizabeth Wilson, who is the founding director of the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society at Dartmouth, told Science, “You could take a paragraph from one of his books and make a whole career out of it.”

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