Cover: Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America, from Harvard University PressCover: Routes of Power in PAPERBACK

Routes of Power

Energy and Modern America

On NPR’s All Things Considered, listen to Christopher F. Jones discuss the first commercial oil pipeline in the U.S.—a two-inch diameter, wrought-iron “engineering marvel” that, upon its completion, put 500 out of work:

The fossil fuel revolution is usually rendered as a tale of historic advances in energy production. In this perspective-changing account, Christopher F. Jones instead tells a story of advances in energy access—canals, pipelines, and wires that delivered power in unprecedented quantities to cities and factories at a great distance from production sites. He shows that in the American mid-Atlantic region between 1820 and 1930, the construction of elaborate transportation networks for coal, oil, and electricity unlocked remarkable urban and industrial growth along the eastern seaboard. But this new transportation infrastructure did not simply satisfy existing consumer demand—it also whetted an appetite for more abundant and cheaper energy, setting the nation on a path toward fossil fuel dependence.

Between the War of 1812 and the Great Depression, low-cost energy supplied to cities through a burgeoning delivery system allowed factory workers to mass-produce goods on a scale previously unimagined. It also allowed people and products to be whisked up and down the East Coast at speeds unattainable in a country dependent on wood, water, and muscle. But an energy-intensive America did not benefit all its citizens equally. It provided cheap energy to some but not others; it channeled profits to financiers rather than laborers; and it concentrated environmental harms in rural areas rather than cities.

Today, those who wish to pioneer a more sustainable and egalitarian energy order can learn valuable lessons from this history of the nation’s first steps toward dependence on fossil fuels.

From Our Blog

Jacket: The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, by Anthony Abraham Jack, from Harvard University Press

Book Club Spotlight: The Privileged Poor

As students around the world deliberate their options for further education, only made more challenging in a pandemic, we’re reminded that getting in is only half the battle. In The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, Anthony Abraham Jack asks how—and why—do disadvantaged students struggle at elite colleges? What can schools can do differently if these students are to thrive? As back to school season begins, we spoke to two university book clubs that read and discussed The Privileged Poor this summer.