Making the Modern World Book Summary - Making the Modern World Book explained in key points

Making the Modern World summary

Vaclav Smil

Materials and Dematerialization

Listen to the first key idea

Key idea 1 of 6
3.8 (31 ratings)
17 mins
6 key ideas
Audio & text

What is Making the Modern World about?

Making the Modern World (2014) is a guide to humanity’s material consumption through history and into the future. These blinks explain the major material categories of our time and how we can effectively manage them as we move forward.

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is an interdisciplinary researcher who has authored over 30 books and nearly 500 papers on energy, environmental and demographic change, food production, technical innovation, risk assessment and public policy. He is currently a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba and, in 2010, Foreign Policy named him among the top 50 global thinkers.


© Vaclav Smil: Making the Mordern World copyright 2014, John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used by permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc. and shall not be made available to any unauthorized third parties.


© Vaclav Smil: Making the Mordern World copyright 2014, John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used by permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc. and shall not be made available to any unauthorized third parties.

Table of Contents
    Key idea 1 of 6

    Material use surveys should include the raw materials used in every sector of the economy.

    From the production of clothes to houses to all manner of electronics, the sheer variety of materials used by modern-day humans is dizzying. But how can we determine which materials to take into account when analyzing our modern material flow?

    Well, no human material use survey would be complete without considering agricultural and forestry-derived products, as well as metals, industrial gases and non-renewable organics.

    Back in 1882, the US Geological Survey, or USGS, began preparations for one of the first reports on material flows ever conducted for an entire country. Their survey grouped materials into major categories and covered the period between 1900 and 1995.

    The categories, of course, included all raw materials derived from agriculture, including cotton, seeds, wool and tobacco; everything the forest industry produced, like wood and paper; and finally metals, minerals and non-renewable organics derived from fossil fuels, like asphalt, waxes and oils.

    To these, the author would suggest adding industrial gases, because such materials are essential to our modern methods of production. Other than that, USGS classifications are still valid today.

    So, breaking material surveys down into such categories is a long-standing procedure; but it only works because it only assesses raw organic materials that are designated for further processing, while omitting oxygen, water, food, fuel and all hidden material flows.

    Hidden material flows are all the materials extracted during a production cycle that don’t end up in finished products, like all the earth and rocks that are moved to reach a mineral deposit. Materials like this would actually account for the vast majority of total material flow in countries with large mineral-extracting industries.

    So, water isn’t listed for quantitative reasons, because it would overshadow practically all other materials; leaving oxygen off the list makes sense because it’s practically an inexhaustible element of the earth’s atmosphere; and food as well as fuel are excluded because they have historically been analyzed separately, and aren’t quite materials but instead finished products.

    Want to see all full key ideas from Making the Modern World?

    Key ideas in Making the Modern World

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    Who should read Making the Modern World

    • Anyone interested in the material flow and consumption of modern society
    • Every manufacturer, designer and product developer

    Categories with Making the Modern World

    What our members say

    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    25 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 5,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial