Book Shelf, Book 4 — Apollo's Fire

August 15, 2008

Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy

By Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks
Island Press $25.95

Reviewed by Tom Henry

Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas calls Apollo's Fire a "brilliant, inspiring book on the need to set goals and find future solutions to achieve clean, efficient energy."

Robert Redford lauds it as something that can help readers get "beyond the doom and gloom warming dialogue." Brilliant might be a stretch, but the points they're making are certainly on the mark.

Apollo's Fire is one of the more comprehensive, ambitious, balanced and upbeat books out there now about America's energy situation.

And the field is getting cluttered with many, from children's books to intensely dry and academic research epics.

Apollo's Fire fits somewhere inbetween, something that's set in enough of a conversational tone for the layman while not running short on facts to back up its argument.

Unlike Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Apollo's Fire is not about how we got to where we are — but where we can go from here.

If there's an obvious bias, it's one against complacency.

The book's premise is that solutions to the energy crisis need to be sought with the same fervor that Americans had in the 1960s while pursuing President John F. Kennedy's challenge to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back to Earth by the end of the decade.

It encourages people to think big, while instilling a sense of urgency. It has a message of hope, not futility.

The pros and cons of each of the various technologies are laid out in detail, some more than others.

It's clear the authors are excited about the prospects of wind, solar, and tidal energy while more neutral on hydrogen, nuclear, and clean coal. But they don't advocate exclusively for one or totally discount any of them.

And, of course, they explain what can be gained from greater energy efficiency and the use of industrial steam for cogenerated power, though they could have done more with the latter.

While they bring strong analysis and enthusiasm to the energy issue, the reader is left wondering at times if they see everything as a panacea. And why markets haven't responded faster if the advantages of certain technologies are so clear.

Jay Inslee is a Seattle-area congressman, a Democrat who, coincidentally, was Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's roommate in Washington for several years until Strickland ran for governor.

Bracken Hendricks is a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress and former executive director of the Apollo Alliance, a consortium of business, labor and environmental groups dedicated to energy solutions. He was a special assistant to Gore while Gore was vice president, as well as being involved on climate change issues for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both digress with occasional sidebars, including ones in which Inslee provides some detail about the predictable resistance he has encountered from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The book is balanced in how it approaches technological solutions. That's not to say there's no Bush-bashing.

Included is a brief forward by former President Bill Clinton.

Tom Henry is an environmental reporter at The (Toledo, Oh.) Blade.

** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Summer 2008.