27 June 2012

The Third Industrial Revolution -- the review

I don't remember who recommended that I buy Jeremy Rifkin's book, which I recently skimmed.

Why did I skim? Because it's a boring, pedantic, wishful book. Rifkin is clearly a clever guy, but his intricate thesis on how we are moving to a "lateral world of renewable energy and social networking" strikes me as a caricature (or maybe duplicate) version of Thomas Friedman's broad strokes of big ideas with nothing to connect them.

Rifkin appears to have convinced bureaucrats that renewables are the way to go. That's does not mean that they are following the RIGHT way.

He also spends one of his 8 or 9 chapters saying how "economists don't get it, because they are stuck in a Newtonian world when the real world runs by thermodynamics." I don't know WHICH economists he's talked to, and I don't know why he feels a need to discredit economists (he blames the financial crisis on high oil prices, not a bubble in prices and debt), but he's way off target with "analysis" that sounds more like the babbling of a stoned high school physics student.*

I stopped reading it (like Tyler**) because both of these flaws are enough to convince me that his third industrial revolution is more about marketing his vision than understanding what we are doing now or predicting what we will do in the future.

Bottom Line: I give this book TWO stars for its decent discussion of entropy and thermodynamics, and how human activities affect the planet. But I recommend that you skip it and read this book instead.
* Not that those folks don't have heart and insight into bigger issues!

** Tyler Cowen is famous (to me) for dropping a book the moment it loses momentum or his interest (he's always looking for good plots and good ideas). He does so because the marginal cost of continuing is higher than the marginal benefit of starting another book. Tyler reads about 1-2 books per day (not kidding).

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