Useful as an introductory survey of a relatively untouched field, this history of energy production and consumption in Colombia is stimulating in its originality, frustrating in its brevity, and provocative in its interpretation. The author’s sources include both an interesting collection of published materials and an array of public and private archival sources heretofore utilized only peripherally. In addition, the book is surprisingly readable, given the nature of its subject. Unfortunately, it stops at 1930, with the promise that a future volume will bring the study down to the present.
Acknowledging that some authorities assess the complexity of a society or the level of its development on the basis of its energy consumption, the work distinguishes three broad stages of energy usage in Colombian history: the wood era (1500-1806), the transitional era—steam, bagasse, kerosene or other oils, charcoal, etc. (1806-90), and the modern era—electricity, coal, and petroleum (1890-present). There are sections of the book devoted to each of the major fuels in Colombian history, any one of which could be the basis of a book-length study in itself.
De la Pedraja Tomán may draw criticism from some for his strong nationalistic stance. One of his arguments is that events since 1890 prove that Colombians, motivated by a sense of public service and supported by the government, can and should control the development of their own natural resources. The work is clearly critical of those who seem to have delivered the exploitation of the nation’s resources to foreigners, either because they lacked faith in Colombia’s ability to control the technology necessary for development or because they were more interested in their own short-term personal gain. The author asserts that companies financed and run by Colombians have been more beneficial to the nation than those dominated by non-Colombians. This is an appealing thesis, but one that is not conclusively demonstrated by this volume which, we must remember, does not cover the post-1930 period. It does, however, whet the appetite for those chapters which will carry the story down to the present day, and thereby (one assumes) make the case much more convincingly.