Here is a review appearing on Amazon's UK site by Jonathan Bardon: Engrossing and compelling from start to finish -that's my verdict. I began to read it by a pool in resort in southern Spain in September 2015 and I just had to keep reading and reading. Plans to visit elegant renaissance palaces and beautiful Moorish remains (as a historian should) were postponed until I had got to the end. My copy (along with my feet) got seriously sunned in the process.
"Are we running out?" is also utterly convincing. If you are expecting a rant, be assured, it's not. Bryan clearly has a respectable track record as an expert in natural resource economics. But to examine the question of sustainability of all the earth's resources, she has to explore, to study, the latest state of play, the most recent findings of specialists in a kaleidoscope of disciplines. In order to achieve this, Bryan's reading has been extraordinarily - astonishingly - wide-ranging.
The book is crammed with an impressive amount of information but never at any stage did I feel overwhelmed. On the contrary, the evidence is so engagingly presented in lucid, fluent prose that the urge to turn to the next page is difficult to resist. This book is starkly different in style from the constipated styles favoured by so many academics largely concerned with 'peer review. Obviously Bryan has written this volume for all of us.
Attention is held again and again by the examples she gives. These include classic cases from the past of unsustainable exploitation such as the fates of the passenger pigeon, Newfoundland Banks cod, and American bison - her descriptions reinforced by photographs including one (taken around 1870) of a small mountain of buffalo skulls waiting to be processed by fertiliser.
I am a keen angler with an amateur enthusiasm for what happens to life in both fresh water and the seas. That means I have read a great deal on acidification, eutrophication and over-exploitation of fisheries. But the relentless march of evidence Bryan parades in her chapter, 'Oceans and the Tragedy of the Commons', reduced me to state of despair.
Why did I find this book so convincing? It is that Bryan goes out of her way to be fair-minded, to be dispassionate, in the light of the latest research. She avoids pat conclusions and condemnations: I found this particularly so in her analysis of the pros and cons of genetically modified crops and of the generation of electricity by nuclear power stations.
Yet, for all her determination to weigh the evidence calmly and to avoid scare-mongering, I did find the book profoundly unsettling. Am I - I woke up thinking in the middle of the night - am I as a historian looking at the termination of human history rather sooner than I had been expecting? Bryan does offer hope, but rather a lot of her conclusions (I found anyway) are distinctly bleak.
This weekend (24-25 October) three publications I get regularly delivered made Bryan's book seem to me to be acutely relevant: Time, The Economist, and National Geographic. Time's cover story 'Unlimited energy. For everyone. Forever. FUSION: it might actually work this time' offered hope and an inside story in the Economist seemed to do the same. National Geographic, in contrast, offered catastrophic and perhaps unstoppable change in its cover story, 'Cool it. The Climate issue'.
Consult these articles and then dive into 'Are we running out?' You'll keep reading. If enough of us read it, could some of Bryan's proffered remedial actions be effectively applied? ... um ... maybe ... perhaps ... possibly ...
Here is an additional review from Amazon's UK site:
As a retired geographer, I’ve always had an interest in natural resources even though most of the time, it’s been a latent interest. And, as a regular reader of The Economist newspaper for over 45 years, I am at reasonably familiar with most of the topics covered in this book. This is not to say I am up-to-date or fully familiar with all the issues covered but they weren’t all entirely new to me.
As a book for an intelligent public in general and a basic textbook for undergraduates, I found Are We Running Out? particularly useful because it pulled so many disparate issues together between two covers. Perhaps in some cases because the author didn’t want to omit anything the text occasionally appears to be a little too dense—but that’s only a positive gripe.
The first chapter possibly contains a tad too many anecdotes and the Conclusions could have been a presented a bit more tightly but neither really detract from the book’s value. A glossary of acronyms would have been useful; there were a couple chapters in the middle of the book where it was a bit difficult to see the text — or the argument—for the acronyms. Similarly, a separate chapter on NGOs and other lobby groups might have been a useful addition.
I see that there is now an e-book version, something which wasn’t there when I ordered my copy a few months ago. Not only is it a third the price but it saves lugging quite a weighty tome around from place to place, making bedtime reading something of a hazard!
It is a particularly well-researched and well-written book and despite the weightiness of some of the issues it never becomes boring. You just want to keep on reading.