Redniss (Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, 2010) delivers an arrestingly unconventional exploration of weather.
This is a terrific celebration of weather as an elemental force in not only our daily lives, but in our global stories, myths, history, and cultural identities. It is part powerful graphic novel (with impeccable color sense) and part meteorological text. The author divides the book into chapters such as Cold, Rain, Sky, Heat, Dominion, Profit, and Forecasting, and within each chapter is an array of anecdotes and factoids, vest-pocket biographies, and elegant place descriptions. After an introduction to the Arctic explorer Vilhjálmur Stefánsson, Redniss discusses the demographics of the far-north Svalbard archipelago (“Today, Svalbard has a population of approximately 2000 people and 3000 polar bears”). Then she moves on to a lightshow in South America’s Atacama Desert: “in the shifting light, the Atacama’s sands turn gold, orange, and violet. In the shadows, the landscape is blue, green, violet. Treeless, plantless expanses of stark grandeur roll out like a Martian landscape.” Redniss details what we know about the dynamics of lightning and why lightning often gives us the shivers. “Lightning can charge out of a bright blue sky,” she writes, “traveling horizontally 10 or more miles from a nearby storm. Lightning can, and does, strike twice.” The author also looks at the meteorological effects of the death of Kim Jong II as reported by North Korea’s official news outlets (“winds were stronger, waves higher, and temperatures the coldest of the season”), the money to be made off ice at Walden Pond, and Benjamin Franklin, who “was a proponent of air baths, the practice of sitting naked by an open window.” This book is not simply a collection of oddments and odd fellows, but rather a genuine demonstration of weather as a phenomena and how it is fantastical on both the symbolic and systematized levels.
A highly atmospheric, entertainingly earnest, and intimate engrossment with the world’s most popular topic of conversation.