After finding his quartet of books about the global history of nuclear weapons so valuable and intriguing, when I saw that a used book shop had a recent history of energy by Richard Rhodes I picked it up the next day.
It includes some nice little historical parallels and illustrations. One that I found striking illustrates how recent the oil-fired world which we now take for granted really is. Rhodes describes how “big-inch” pipeline technology was developed in the 1930s in America, allowing pipes of greater diameter than 8″ which would have split with earlier manufacturing techniques, but saw relatively little use due to the great depression. In 1942, the first “Big Inch” pipeline was built from east Texas refineries to the northeast (p. 286), partly to avoid the risk of U-boat attack when shipping oil up the east coast.
In addition to illustrating how America’s mass-scale oil infrastructure is mostly less than one human lifetime old, the Big Inch example demonstrates how long-lasting such infrastructure is once installed. Rhodes points out that Big Inch and its near parallel Little Inch (constructed after February 1943) companion are still operating today (p. 271).