Accounts of how the weather has affected human history (mostly military) from Noah to ’Nam.
Durschmied (The Hinge Factor, not reviewed) returns to the field of what-if history with descriptions of 15 events whose outcomes were altered by the weather. Only one—the Irish potato famine in the 1840s—deals in detail with a nonmilitary matter, and he is certainly not interested in the weather’s impact on cultural history (e.g., Shelley’s drowning at sea in a storm). The author begins with the Flood and proceeds chronologically through his material. And so we learn how a ferocious thunderstorm contributed to the destruction of the Roman legions of Varus (a.d. 9), how in 1281 a typhoon sank 3,500 ships packed with Mongol invaders headed for Japan, and how in 1795 some cavalry captured some warships frozen in ice. We see Tecumseh thwarted by fog, Napoleon by Russia’s “General Winter,” Germans (WWI) by avalanche, Admiral Halsey by typhoon. We see fair weather facilitating D-day (in one and a half pages) and turning the tide of the Battle of the Bulge (the best section: informed, richly detailed, exciting). In the Vietnam chapter, Durschmied adopts the first person and relates some of his own experiences. His prose is often breathless, pedantic, and even purple. “Somewhere east of China,” he begins one section, “over the endless Pacific Ocean, the sun burns down on an oily sea.” He romanticizes military achievement, blissfully mixes metaphors (“What really took place that day is buried in the mists of time”), and seems unaware that the term “hag” (twice employed to refer to elderly women) is today a tad inappropriate. His conclusions are often patent and sometimes hit the red zone on the DUH-Meter (e.g., “Man can be victorious against fellow man, but when confronted by the unleashed forces of nature, he stands powerless”).
A great idea, much research, but overwrought and overwritten. (12 maps)