How the Weather Has Changed History
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A breezy, almanac-like entry in the well-worn meteorology-and-history genre.

Lee starts out with an unpromising gods-for-clods and rocks-for-jocks survey approach to her subject, mistaking flippancy for humor and turning groaners along the lines of, “Siberia has cold like Bill Gates has money.” There’s not much science and precious little unexplored territory for many a desperate page; Lee strives to get a joke or pun in edgewise, evoking the spirit of Doug Adams, whom she identifies as a “humorist,” perhaps unaware of his hard-science chops. In time, fortunately, Lee warms up to her subject and begins taking things a little more seriously, even forgoing a chance to joke about the English gully called Dead Man’s Bottom in an enlightening discussion of fog, the Wars of the Roses and the many excuses people have for killing each other, friend as well as foe. Even so, Lee skims the surface, delivering numerous vignettes that seldom give more than a taste of an always fascinating subject. What would have happened if the Greeks had not known of the winds off Salamis? What if the weather hadn’t been rotten on Election Day 1948? Lee’s miniature essays hint rather than explicate, sometimes (as in the matter of the Bering land-bridge theory) drawing on out-of-date references; some of the pieces are only very incidentally about the weather, although they’re pleasant enough to read. The book shines at a few points, though: The author’s account of the Confederate prison camp usually referred to as Andersonville sheds Hippocratean light on that ugly business, while her recounting of the Winter War fought between Finland and the Soviet Union shows how for want of a glove a kingdom can be lost.

Mostly superficial bathroom reading for weather-trivia buffs.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-083982-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2006