An engaged and engaging examination of “what current science allows us to say (or does not) about Sandy’s relation to...

STORM SURGE

HURRICANE SANDY, OUR CHANGING CLIMATE, AND EXTREME WEATHER OF THE PAST AND FUTURE

Sobel (Environmental Sciences and Applied Physics and Mathematics/Columbia Univ.) grapples with the “complex questions involving science, engineering, politics, and human psychology” that arose in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.

The author, who spends much of his time at Columbia studying climate and extreme weather, looks to Hurricane Sandy as a good example to help explain the scientific modeling that predicted the hurricane’s birth and path. Sandy was certainly an unusual event—in the past 150 years of keeping weather records, no hurricane has made the fast left turn she did—and Sobel wants readers to comprehend Sandy as both a specific phenomenon and within the global picture, to understand the nature of Sandy and the atmospheric forces at play, which means a considerable dip into physics, meteorology and climatology. That dip turns out to be gratifying, as the author provides a readable introduction to patterns in the global atmosphere, their changes and the influence they have on weather events. Once through this basic course, which includes forays into hurricane science, winter weather and the history of forecasting, readers will walk away with a handle on the dynamics of weather systems. Sobel uses music to help explain coherent patterns applicable to weather, and he delivers approachable discussions of the Fujiwhara effect (“Two giant entities in the atmosphere, dangerous and powerful but elemental...normally solitary, each doing its own thing, engage with each other”) and other phenomena. For tonal color, Sobel ends his examination of Sandy with a look at the Occupy movement and its role in recovery from the storm. He then shifts to a satisfying survey of updates and clarifications on the climate change front (including the vexing water-vapor issue) and the evolution of risk-management barriers and preventative measures.

An engaged and engaging examination of “what current science allows us to say (or does not) about Sandy’s relation to human-induced climate change.”

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0062304766

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harper Wave

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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