3 out of 4 stars
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Fueling Change: The Once and Future Kansas City by Twyla Dell is an expansive tome on the fuel history of not just Kansas City, but the American Midwest as a whole. Dell clearly lays out the distinct energy ages that built America: wood, coal, and oil and the ongoing transition of Kansas City into the solar age. The author describes the four stages of energy transitions and goes on to anecdotally demonstrate those changes throughout the history of the Kansas City area.
Dell weaves an interesting narrative about the interaction of people and their landscape based on the prevailing fuel age. As is the topic of many books surrounding energy use, transportation plays a key role; from horses to keelboats, to steamers, to locomotives, and to automobiles, the author drives home the concept that each incremental energy adaptation also had major implications on the homestead as well as patterns of community development. She uses this focus on gradual change to highlight the path toward a transition into the solar age in order to combat climate change.
Fueling Change is a wonderful compendium of aspects of American history that many people never learned about in school in such vivid detail. As someone immensely interested in navigation and maps, I found myself instantly drawn to her depictions of traveling and commerce via waterways. I was especially amazed by the wealth of woodlots that were mapped along rivers so steamboats could make their journeys. In addition to the wealth of illustrations and historical images, another thing that really kept my interest in the lengthy material was Dell’s focus on the human scale of each energy age.
While the book is chock-full of very interesting and in-depth material, it is probably not something one would keep on their bedside table. At well over 400 pages, Fueling Change is best described as a textbook. Despite the abundant illustrations and tables, the depth of information to wade through demands a deliberate and slow reading to soak in the wealth of knowledge presented to the reader. Since it took so much careful attention to read, I noticed a rather large number of missing words, style inconsistencies, and formatting issues. This was rather disappointing to me as the book generally presents itself as a very professionally produced work.
Fueling Change is an amazing book for a niche market of individuals immensely interested in energy and how it impacted the evolution of the Midwest and the United States. Readers interested in American history would also find a lot of fascinating bits of information in the book. While the information presented is quite interesting and well laid out, the number of grammatical issues takes the rating to 3 out of 4 stars.
Fueling Change: The Once and Future Kansas City
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