When the hearth fires started burning in the Palaeolithic, our ancestors broadened the exploitation of food and initiated an avalanche of change. Cooking is not often associated with drilling for oil but both are innovations that allow us to tap the sun's energy accumulated in organic matter. A story of slow evolutionary change and sharp revolutionary departures, "Children of the Sun" reveals how humanity's successes hinge directly on effective uses of sun energy and how humans have transformed the world and themselves in their quest for energy. But dwindling natural resources, global warming and environmental pollution all testify to the limits of our fossil-fuel civilisation. Although we haven't yet adopted a feasible alternative, our ingenuity and adaptability as a species give us hope.
ALFRED W. CROSBY, a founder of the field of global history, is a professor emeritus of history, geography and American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.