Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing, the popular group-blog where she gets to link to stories about booze-based semiconductors or the science of farting. But her writing has always displayed two traits that give it power far beyond BoingBoing’s geeky precincts: She’s got a knack for explaining really complex science in an unintimidating way, along with a hardheaded Midwestern pragmatism that’s tough to dismiss.

She brings both those qualities to Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before it Conquers Us, her new book about the choices we face in continuing to power our world without wrecking it. It’s a fast, filling read that will arm you with a deeper understanding of the precariousness of our electricity grid, the distinction between efficiency and conservation, and the pros and cons of each of the energy sources we imagine as our savior. Koerth-Baker plants herself firmly in the climate-activist camp, but she knows how to talk across the political divide, and, refreshingly, her perspective is rooted in the heartland and draws examples from places like Kansas and Minnesota more than California and New York.

We’ve got an excerpt of Before the Lights Go Out for you, which looks at the relative importance of individual choice and policymaking in reforming our energy system. I collared Koerth-Baker via email to answer some questions the book raised for me about the climate debate, the possibility of dialogue, and the tenuousness of hope.