The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987

Book Reviews

Coping with Abundance: Energy and Environment in Industrial America. By
Martin V. Melosi. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. Pp. xii+358.
Preface, acknowledgments, introduction, tables, notes, epilogue,
index. $10.95, paper.)
Americans are inclined to view abundance as a blessing, not some-
thing they must cope with. But as this wide-ranging treatment of the
history of energy development and public policy demonstrates, rich en-
ergy resources have not always been an unadulterated good. Nor over
the past century and a half have America's riches suggested to those
in either the public or private sector energy policies that best balance
present needs against future contingencies. Success just as often begets
waste and shortages, in a recurring cycle. Americans have tended, Mar-
tin V. Melosi argues, to adopt a "single source mentality." They assume
that the current major source is preferable to all others until circum-
stance forces a change, such as wood to coal, coal to petroleum and
natural gas. In reality, the problem for the United States, almost alone
among the world powers, "was having too many choices-not too few"
(p. 332). To develop a coherent energy policy, Americans must see the
many sources as complementary, as well as competitive.
Herein lies the strength of this book. Rather than concentrate on the
history of a single energy source-coal, oil, natural gas, or electricity
from hydro to nuclear-Melosi integrates them all in a single narrative.
Readers concerned about the future of Texas oil and gas, for example,
will better sense the state's contribution to national energy needs. Simi-
larly, we can better understand the impact of foreign oil policy on do-
mestic production, as well as on decisions to develop nuclear energy in
the postwar era. Melosi is particularly effective in delineating the role
of the government as it shifts from a preoccupation in the nineteenth
century with promoting development to a far more complex concern
with planning, regulation, conservation, and the environment. The
book finds no standard villains or heroes either among entrepreneurs
or bureaucrats.
Such sweep has a cost. Broad synthesis requires Melosi to draw al-
most exclusively on secondary materials. Specialists will find little here
that is new. And for all its solid analysis, the book does not offer much
fresh insight into the role energy has played in America's economic de-
velopment. The author concentrates primarily on policy in the public
rather than the private sector. All the same, no other historian has pro-
vided scholars, lay readers, and students such a generally useful and
readable account of a subject vital to America's economic well-being
and national security.

Bard College, Annandale, New York

327

MARK H. LYTLE

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117152/. Accessed December 21, 2014.