People are always asking Bill Gates if he's really read all of Vaclav Smil.
Smil is a professor at the University of Manitoba. His bio says he does “interdisciplinary research in the fields of energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy.” He’s a wide-ranging thinker. He's published 36 books. One is about the Japanese diet. Gates doesn't recommend it.
Smil has been particularly influential in his work attempting to quantify the energy needs of global civilization, and the likely energy yields of various renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. It’s a dizzyingly comprehensive project. Smil is attempting to put numbers to the human use of energy across all of history (and some of pre-history) to enable meaningful comparisons between various phases of human civilization.
Smil focuses on “energy transitions,” epochal shifts in how people have harnessed and used energy. He thinks with some good high-level analysis, understanding those transitions will help us make more realistic plans for the necessary shift to renewables.
The stakes are clear. The planet is hurtling towards a 2 degrees Celsius rise in average temperatures, and likely beyond. To mitigate climate change, we need to significantly curb global carbon emissions. At the same time, standards of living are tightly correlated to energy consumption (to a point); there are billions of people who'd like to lift themselves out of poverty, and the best known methods available for supplying them with power come from fossil fuels.