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I've only read the preface and about two chapters so far. This book is fairly dense. I've found it rewarding so far, but I knocked off two stars because the writing is extremely complicated and almost pretentious for what it's trying to convey.
At times, entire pages read like a rambling lecture from one of your college elective classes. There are sprinkles of interesting facts and observations with a huge number of citations, but the author almost comes across as a drunk fool. He doesn't write with a purpose. I found myself reading entire pages of rather dense material, where a single sentence goes on and on for at least 4 or more lines. There are many passages where there are no real "takeaways". There are sentences that could be ripped apart or stripped out entirely and the main idea explained in six or seven words without losing detail.
I don't want to accuse the author of anything, and I'll admit he excessively provides citations. But I gotta say – this book could be half its size if the author cut the bullshit. The complex writing is a delusion of grandeur. The reader is not better off by wasting time on these puzzles.
Smil looks again at the extent of growth at all scales of life. An excellent summary if what growth entails and what it means. Does the growth of non-organic institutions resemble organic biological growth. Smil thinks so.
It amazes me how prolifically Smil writes (and reads!) on a quite wide variety of topics. His main expertise is energy, and this book on growth patterns is of course largely related to this topic. It is a great resource for finding links to current and past work on growth phenomena of a very wide variety, however the book itself is unfortunately not very synthetic. Smil describes hundreds of patterns, but does not take a step back and discuss "meta-patterns", and does not offer that much in terms of take-home lessons. If you are looking for something encyclopedic, this is a good book; if you are looking for synthesis, not the best resource.
I have been reading Smil books for about a decade now, and 'Growth' attempts to stimulate thought in the educated reader (I think the book's information is accessible to a certain demographic) by presenting variants of the exponential and logarithmic mathematical functions of various biological and human systems. Smil foresees a battle of the biosphere versus the human material apparatus in the near future. I think intelligent discussion of the contents of this book should be a selection factor for policy makers internationally.