• Numbers Don't Lie

  • 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World
  • By: Vaclav Smil
  • Narrated by: Ben Prendergast
  • Length: 6 hrs and 14 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (465 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil." (Bill Gates)

An essential guide to understanding how numbers reveal the true state of our world - exploring a wide range of topics including energy, the environment, technology, transportation, and food production.

Vaclav Smil's mission is to make facts matter. An environmental scientist, policy analyst, and a hugely prolific author, he is Bill Gates' go-to guy for making sense of our world. In Numbers Don't Lie, Smil answers questions such as: What's worse for the environment - your car or your phone? How much do the world's cows weigh (and what does it matter)? And what makes people happy?

From data about our societies and populations, through measures of the fuels and foods that energize them, to the impact of transportation and inventions of our modern world - and how all of this affects the planet itself - in Numbers Don't Lie, Vaclav Smil takes us on a fact-finding adventure, using surprising statistics to challenge conventional thinking. Packed with fascinating information and memorable examples, Numbers Don't Lie reveals how the US is leading a rising worldwide trend in chicken consumption, that vaccination yields the best return on investment, and why electric cars aren't as great as we think (yet). Urgent and essential, with a mix of science, history, and wit - all in bite-sized chapters on a broad range of topics - Numbers Don't Lie inspires readers to interrogate what they take to be true.

©2021 Vaclav Smil (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“The human mind soaks up the images and narratives conveyed by the press, but they are a highly nonrandom sample of reality: the lurid, the sudden, the photogenic. Smil’s title says it all: To understand the world, you need to follow the trendlines, not the headlines. This is a compelling, fascinating, and most important, realistic portrait of the world and where it’s going.” (Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now)

“[A] tidy, entertaining collection of brief inquiries into a host of hot-button topics.... Throughout, Smil’s viewpoint is balanced, and each element of the text is fully backed by research as well as the author’s contagious curiosity. Even when examining dire circumstances, Smil keeps readers engaged. A fascinating book to be read straight through or consulted bit by bit.” (Kirkus)

“[Smil] presents a robust array of data, at times with devastating acuity.” (Publishers Weekly

What listeners say about Numbers Don't Lie

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Strange book

70 some chapters on energy, population etc.. Smil distills large complex topics to their mathematical essence and you feel enlightened. The problem is, they are large complex topics for a reason. Throughout I was thinking "yeah but" there is so much missing. With short zingers on big things, it's easy to leave out contradictory information. It's entertaining and interesting, but reality is complex. Smil is at his best in live lectures, from which many of these chapters derive, too bad he couldn't narrate.

13 people found this helpful

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might be my #1 recommended book for 2021

Loved this book. Answers so many .... uh ..... seemingly random questions but does so in a logical manner with the numbers and research and math to back it up. If you need one book outside of your normal genre this year, this one should be it. So if you've ever wondered what's worse for the environment: your car or your cell phone or what height has to do with quality of life or how many of your modern conveniences were developed in the 1880s or how happiness is measured, then pick up this book. It's short and sweet with "potato chip" chapters. We aren't quite halfway through the year yet, but this might turn into my #1 recommended book of 2021. Vitally important information here.

5 people found this helpful

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First VS Book I Could Wrap My Head Around

I've picked up a few of Smil's books and audiobooks over the years, but I've not been able to finish many (due to my own mental/attention span limitations). This book was very easy to follow and finish due to the structure of the chapters and the great performance by Ben Prendergast. If you're looking for a great book that will expose you to new ideas, test your assumptions, and help you plan for the future, you can do no better than 'Numbers Don't Lie".

4 people found this helpful

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Must- read book.

This is an absolutely fascinating book that gives it's readers a real window into the global challenges we are facing in the 21st century.

2 people found this helpful

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Inferior version of freakonomics

Same idea using numbers to explain things or events but identified subjects are quite trivial and explanations and insights are even more so with very little value - leaving you with the question of what’s the point the author is trying to share across? I find myself rewinding and relistening to the recording trying to figure out the point where often there really isn’t any. Just some near random numbers.

1 person found this helpful

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Must read for everyone

Random data has never been so interesting . There’s so much data around but I have come across such fascinating presentation
Cannot stop thinking about this book

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Not really a book. Definitely not an audiobook.

A collection of columns.
Doesn't work as a book.
Full of references to the pdf.
Not enjoyable as an audiobook.

1 person found this helpful

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A mildly interesting podcast

At best, this could have been a podcast. Really, though, it’s things I might ask Siri to get me answers for, and then forget.

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First and last book from Smil

This book reminds me of my late grandmother who complained about everything without really understanding it. It is very unfortunate that the author only points to the imperfection of all systems and methods; I found it also very surprising that an author of this fame does not even understand the principles of market economy and the fact that economic freedom is a necessary prerequisite of political freedom . My advise to VS is to read some Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell.

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6 hours of mental illumination

If you hate facts, then you would not like this book.
People, whose prejudices are hardened already, will hate this book.
If you value facts, data and the most balance truth that humans are capable of, then this book is a joy, almost karmic.
If you appreciate, context, then this book is for you.
One of the most humble, yet, tour de force, summary of how the modern world works.