Table of contents

Chapters Introduction Chapter 1. Power in Nature: From Mitochondria to Emotion and Deception The Basis of Life’s Power Power and Bodies Power and Behaviors Proto-Human Powers Chapter 2. Power in the Pleistocene: On Spears, Fires, Furs, Words, and Flutes—And Why Men Are Such Power-Hogs Hands and Stone The Fire Ape Skins From Grunts to Sentences … Read more

End notes

Chapter 1 1. There are organisms living in the ocean depths that derive energy not from sunlight, but from Earth’s internal heat as it is released from seafloor vents. But these are rare exceptions to the rule. 2. For more about the maximum power principle, see Charles Hall, Maximum Power: The Ideas and Applications of … Read more

Chapter 7

The Future of Power: Learning to Live Happily Within Limits Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power. ― Lao-Tzu If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds … Read more

Chapter 6

Optimum Power: Sustaining Our Power Over Time It always has been so. The grievances of those who have got power command a great deal of attention; but the wrongs and the grievances of those people who have no power at all are apt to be absolutely ignored. That is the history of humanity right from … Read more

Chapter 5

Overpowered: The Fine Mess We’ve Gotten Ourselves Into … [T]he energetic metabolism of our species has grown in size to be comparable in magnitude to the natural metabolic cycles of the terrestrial biosphere. This feature underlies almost all environmental challenges we face in the 21st century, ranging through resource depletion, overharvesting of other species, excessive … Read more

Chapter 4

Power in the Anthropocene: The Wonderful World of Fossil Fuels Civilization is the economy of power, and our power is coal. ― Justus von Liebig Every basket is power and civilization. For coal is a portable climate. It carries the heat of the tropics to Labrador and the polar circle; and it is the means … Read more

Chapter 3

Power in the Holocene: The Rise of Social Inequality Competition within groups destroys cooperation; competition between groups creates cooperation. ― Peter Turchin, Ultra Society Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. ― Margaret Thatcher All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It … Read more

Chapter 2

Power in the Pleistocene: On Spears, Fires, Furs, Words, and Flutes—And Why Men Are Such Power-Hogs A system of obedience depends on punishment. Within families or small groups, the mechanism of punishment can be emotional manipulation or physical beatings, but in the politics of large-scale groups, a proactive coalition provides the power. An order given … Read more

Chapter 1

Power in Nature: From Mitochondria to Emotion and Deception [wcm_restrict plans=”power-webinars”] Chapter commentary [/wcm_restrict] The way in which mitochondria generate energy is one of the most bizarre mechanisms in biology. Its discovery has been compared with those of Darwin and Einstein. Mitochondria pump protons across a membrane to generate an electric charge with the power, … Read more


Many people are searching for a magic formula to save the world from the converging crises of the 21st century. Climate change, economic inequality, air and water pollution, resource depletion, and the catastrophic disappearance of wildlife threaten to upend society while destabilizing our planet to such a degree that it may be impossible for future … Read more