Although widespread use of fossil fuels began in the nineteenth century, more than half of all the fossil fuels ever consumed have been burned in the period since 1950. This growth has continued and increased despite widespread scientific consensus that current levels of fossil-fuel consumption threaten the environment with a dangerous degree of global warming. How did we get here?

Burning Up, as its subtitle accurately indicates, provides a global history of fossil-fuel consumption since 1950s. The first section surveys fossil-fuel consumption before 1950, briefly examines energy technologies and energy’s role in society and the economy and presents a statistical picture of fossil-fuel consumption since 1950. The heart of the book consists of chapters about each decade since 1950, plus an overview chapter about electrification. In the third section, Pirani discusses the sources of his views, examines the possibilities for changing mankind’s increasingly dangerous dependence on fossil fuels, and...